the Housing and Development Board (HDB) was setup in 1960, shortly after People Action Party won national elections of 1959. HDB continued construction of some SIT estates: Queenstown, Kallang Airport, St. Michael, Kampong Tiong Bahru, and launched new estates like Bukit Ho Swee, Brickworks, Alexandra Hill, Redhill, Henderson (in Bukit Merah); Bendemeer, Boon Keng, Kallang Bahru and Tanjong Rhu (in Kallang), Upper Changi Road aka Chai Chee (now part of Bedok), MacPherson (in Geylang), MacPherson Homes (in Toa Payoh).

On 13 February 1959 a fire started in Kampong Tiong Bahru, leaving 12,000 people homeless (source: NLB). SIT quickly cleared the area and built few 5-storey blocks with 1-Room flats and 9-storey blocks as well as terraced houses. A bigger fire in Bukit Ho Swee on 25 May 1961 left 16,000 people homeless, as coincidence HDB completed in September 1961 the Kampong Tiong Bahru flats started by SIT and moved the fire victims there, after few months of temporary housing in Queenstown. These fires helped HDB to gain popularity.

In Master Plan 1958 you can see numerous terraced houses (planned by SIT and never built) around Redhill and Whampoa. HDB changed housing typology to massive blocks with smaller flats and eliminated terraced houses.

HDB aimed to build 50,000 dwelling units in first 5 years, so a simple brutalist architecture was chosen, in contrast with the Art Deco and Modernist themes used by SIT. Kampong clearance started.

Queenstown was de facto first new town, but Toa Payoh New Town started in 1965 was the first officially named “New Town”), incorporating a town centre and several neighborhoods. Toa Payoh preliminary plan was published in SIT Annual Report 1958, including terraced houses and low-rise flats. Farmers that opposed government taking their land delayed construction for few years, enough for HDB to change plans to high rises.


Prior to 1960, the Singapore Improvement Trust set up in 1927 and focused on infrastructure, it also built small scale public housing, such as Tiong Bahru (started in 1936) and Queenstown (started in 1952 and completed by HDB in 1960s). In 32 years, SIT built only 23,000 flats, housing 8.8% of Singapore population in 1959.

The SIT housing was similar with British housing, 2-storey terraced houses, 3/4-storey walk-up flats, 7/9-storey high-rise flats started being built in 1952 and one 14-storey block was built in 1956 in Queenstown. The blocks were built at just 10-15 meters apart, denser than HDB estates.

Established on 1 February 1960, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) was formed for the primary functions of managing new and existing buildings, the clearance and redevelopment of slums and urban areas, and the development of rural and agricultural areas for resettlement.[1] These tasks were previously undertaken by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT), but the latter was replaced by the HDB due to its poor performance.[2] At the time, the HDB’s most urgent task was to provide low-cost public housing to a growing population, particularly low-income groups who lived in high-risk dilapidated housing structures with overcrowded, unsanitary living conditions. Singapore’s rate of natural increase then was 4.3 percent, that is, about 60,000 citizens added to the population each year.[3]

After Singapore attained self-government in June 1959, a large number of experienced professional and technical officers at SIT either resigned or were served leaving notices. Only a handful of officers remained, together with several newly recruited local officers who had no practical experience.