Singapore’s Urban Planning

URA Singapore

Did you know that unlike other cities (especially the old towns), Singapore’s very orderly and structured city layout did not occur by chance but was the result of detailed planning by the authorities?

The need for urban planning actually first arose in 1822 (3 years after Sir Raffles founded Singapore) where the huge influx of foreign immigrants resulted in overcrowding, inadequate infrastructure and housing in the little colony. It was during then that Singapore very first town plan – the Raffles Town Plan was created.

After Sir Raffles passed away, with no updates and no new plans drawn up by the British, Singapore very soon outgrew itself, and the Raffles town plan, which focused only on the area which is Downtown Singapore today, proved inadequate. There were severe overcrowding problems, particularly in the Chinatown area, and the road system, planned for travel by foot and horse carts, also could not handle the exploding traffic, particularly when motorised vehicles came to Singapore en masse in the 1910s.

In 1927, the colonial government attempted to improve the situation by setting up the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT). However, their efforts were limited in certain areas, as the body did not have the legislative power to produce comprehensive plans or to control urban development. After the Housing Development Board (HDB) was founded in 1960 to replace the Singapore Improvement Trust, things improved significantly. Within five years, the HDB had constructed more than 50,000 housing units, which was several times more than the SIT had constructed within the time span of more than 20 years. Within the 1970s, most of the population had found adequate housing.

Today, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) holds the mantle for Singapore’s land use planning. To guide in the city’s land use development, URA comes out with the long term Concept Plan (30-40 years ahead), and the shorter term Master Plan, which are reviewed every 5 years. There are open galleries (free of charge) present in the lobbies of URA showcasing these plans as well as the top-level development plans for Singapore. There are even impressive mini landscape models for the whole of Singapore!

Do pop by and check them out!!

Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall

Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall

Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall

Did you know that the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall is one of Singapore’s most historically versatile buildings. In its over 150-year history, it is not only a a focal point for arts and cultural entertainment, this Victorian-era colonial landmark was once a town hall, a hospital and even a war crimes trial court! What is even more surprising is that this landmark was not built as a single building, but 3 separate structures over a 45 years period!!

The first structure to be built was the Victoria Theatre on the left. This building was first built as a town hall in 1862 and housed various government services in its early days. During those days, it served dual functions – a theatre on its ground floor, and offices and meeting rooms on its second floor. However, with a growing administration and an increasing population requiring entertainment, it eventually proved too small for both functions. By 1893, the offices had moved out.

The next structure to be built is the Concert Hall on the right. It was built in 1905 as a Memorial Hall for Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901). When Queen Victoria passed away in 1901, a resolution was passed at the town hall to erect a memorial dedicated to her long reign (64 years). The colonial government subsequently led a fund-raising scheme for the construction work and the cash was used to build the Memorial Hall, refurbish the Town Hall into a theatre and to unify the facades of the two buildings with a clock tower in between.

The 3-structured building (Victoria Theatre, Memorial Hall & Clock tower) officially opened in 1909. In the period before World War II (1942 – 1945) , the Victoria Theatre and Memorial Hall staged many concerts, musicals and play.

In the lead up to World War II (WWII), the Memorial Hall played 2 very important roles – 1) As a hospital for victims affected by air raid bombings of Japanese forces during the Battle of Singapore before Japan’s successful occupation of the colony, and 2) As a venue of Japanese war crime trials in 1945 when WWII ended.

In 1954, it was also the venue where the People’s Action Party was founded.

In 1979, the Memorial Hall was renovated to accommodate the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO), upon which it was renamed as the Victoria Concert Hall. Additional works up to the 1980s added a gallery to the Concert Hall, adding seating capacity and enclosing the second storey balconies on the front and back facades with glass.

As the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall is currently undergoing restoration works to preserve its allure and grandeur, this building is not accessible to the public today. The restoration project, which is started in 2010 is expected to be completed later this year (late-2014), and will restore the old world charm of this landmark while re-energising them to meet modern functional demands. This milestone project is part of the third phase of the Renaissance City Plan to develop distinctive arts and cultural content, and transform Singapore into a global city for arts and culture by 2015.

Do remember to visit it when it is completed!!