Singapore is a young nation but she has seen one of the most numbers of high-rise residential developments over the past few decades since she gained independence, alongside other developing countries in the Southeast Asia, and in China. Building typologies today are so different than when it was, more than fifty years ago, when Housing and Development Board (HDB) of Singapore was first formed. Buildings evolve to be bigger and taller; to tackle the nation’s increasing density.
During the formative years in 1960s, HDB’s main aim was to provide emergency housing solutions for the citizens living in kampongs and squatter housing (Tai, 1988). The solution was mid-rise slab blocks of residential units, consisting of one to three room flats. They were versatile, and structurally efficient, taking only a short time to be built. These blocks were usually 10- 12 stories tall with up to 14- 18 units per floor (Public Housing Design Handbook). These blocks have only either one or two lift lobbies that stop at every 4- 6 floors, connecting to common corridors, before residents have to take the stairs to their individual units. During this period, as citizens were poorer, the units that they occupied were sufficient but small. With such small flats, residents spent much of their time outside their house, and in such circulation layout, residents were constantly exposed to other residents, giving them a chance to meet and greet one another, or engage in communal interaction.

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First Public Housing Development built by HDB

Block 45, 48, 49 Stirling Road, 1960

Source: Photograph taken by Author, 25th June 2016

Void decks were then introduced into public housing designs as a space for residents to gather together, and for children to play indoors when it was raining outdoors. Basic provision shops were also provided within the void decks (Public Housing Design Handbook). Gradually ground floor units lost popularity, and demands increased for units that are on the upper floors, as the public perceived them to be more private. Such shift in mindset happened because communal activities were always hosted or conducted at the void decks, generating noise and human presence (Chua and Edwards, 1992).


Basic provision shops on the left of Lift Core. Partial Void Deck on the right.

Block 163 Stirling Road (Mei Ling Vista), 1970

Source: Photograph taken by Author, 2nd July 2016

Four room flats were then introduced in 1967, when the rising affluence and demands called for larger flat types to be built.

Point block housing was introduced in 1972, a solution to offer residents more privacy than their slab block counterparts. To retain the similar resident density, these point blocks often go up to 25 stories with 4 units per floor sharing a common lift lobby (Public Housing Design Handbook).

First Point Blocks in Singapore

Block 160, 161 Mei Ling Street, 1970

Source: Photograph taken by Author, 2nd July 2016

In 1974, five room flats were introduced first in the point block housing typology and subsequently in the slab block typology. Flat sizes grew according to the needs, demands and ability of the citizens to afford, while demand for smaller size flats decreased over the years.

Corridors shrank in their lengths, serving lesser units as residents wanted more privacy for their own flats. From the common corridors that served a few floors at once, corridors evolved to serve every floor, and some were reduced to serve only a few units per floor. In the point block typology, corridors can be found on every level, serving as little as 4 units per floor. All flats built after 2005, offered full privacy, where rooms no longer would face corridors, and this means that residents have a portion of the corridor that is ‘theirs’, where they can access to their individual units in a semi-private corridor setting. Such unit typologies were only found in the ends of the corridor in the older generation slab blocks.

Lift Landing of 10th Storey of Block 161 Mei Ling Road, serving only 4 units

Block 161 Mei Ling Street, 1970

Source: Photograph taken by Author, 2nd July 2016

With this change in circulation layout, opportunity for residents to meet other residents was reduced, as they no longer share the long walk back to their units. The lift lobbies are brought closer to each unit, by increasing the number of lift lobbies per block. Prioritizing privacy has seen a reduction in opportunities for communal interaction. As read in The Straits Times, dated 29 June 2015, corridor widths have also decreased such that residents are discouraged from placing furniture or their laundry lines out of their homes. Coupled with the increasing flat sizes, residents feel less inclined to step out of their flats to mingle with other neighbors as they can do anything and everything in the comfort of their own homes.

Corridor of Block 155 Mei Ling Street

Block 155 Mei Ling Street, 1970

Source: Photograph taken by Author, 2nd July 2016

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Semi Private Corridor Access for 2 Units at Block 88 Dawson Road (SkyVille @ Dawson)

Block 88, 89, 90 Dawson Road (Skyville @ Dawson), 2015

Source: Photograph taken by Author, 8th July 2016

This trend can be observed by visiting older and newer estates in Singapore, where in older estates, one can see many residents placing impromptu furniture outside of their units, so that they can occasionally sit and watch their children play. However, in newer estates, residents no longer place furniture outside of their homes, and it can be observed that there are lesser residents coming out of their homes to chat with their neighbours or to use the public facilities.

Ground Floor Covered Walkway beside the corridor of Block 155 Mei Ling Street

Block 155 Mei Ling Street, 1970

Source: Photograph taken by Author, 9th July 2016

 Assorted Laundry Lines along corridors of Block 27 Tanglin Halt Road

Block 24- 32 Tanglin Halt Road, 1970

Source: Photograph taken by Author, 6th July 2016

Notice at Lift Lobby discouraging residents from occupying the corridors

Block 88 Dawson Road (Skyville @ Dawson), 2015

Source: Photograph taken by Author, 8th July 2016

Through the observation, it can be seen that with rising affluence and higher quality living, privacy has indeed improved, as there is reduced exposure to other residents. Residents are also discouraged to block public access routes in the newer residential developments compared to the older residential developments. This may imply that by prioritizing privacy and higher quality living, community bonding among residents is compromised, and residents may not feel the urge to interact with other neighbours, as compared to the past.