26 May 2013
The story of Queenstown began on 27 September 1953 when British officials from the Singapore Improvement Trust named the new town after Queen Elizabeth II in commemoration of her coronation a year ago. The colony suburb was the most ambitious project initiated by the SIT to tackle overcrowding woes in Chinatown. Bounded by Ridout Road, Tanglin Road, Alexandra Road, Holland Road and the Malayan Railway, the self-contained estate would comprise of 11,000 apartment flats, housing 70,000 people, and cost some $80,000,000.
Before Queenstown was conferred with the title as Singapore's pioneer satellite estate, bulldozers and earth-moving machineries had already commenced work at the former Buller Camp near Dawson Road. The Princess Margaret Estate became Queenstown's first neighbourhood.
The centrepiece of Princess Margaret Estate was a streamlined 14-storey skyscraper, Forfar House. The super structure, which was the tallest public residential building in 1956, formed the apex of the architectural massing of Queenstown where each apartment flat was served by a built-in asbestos cement refuse chute and a modern sanitary system.
A myriad of social institutions were pioneered in Singapore's first satellite town. In 1956, the first technical school was opened to equip future generations of Singaporeans with technical knowledge and skills to ride Singapore through industralisation. In 1963, Singapore's first polyclinic was built along Margaret Drive to provide access to subsidised healthcare. In 1970, the first branch library and sports complex were ushered in the estate.
By 1980, Queenstown’s oldest flats were 30 years old. Sparse and offering scant niceties, the estate were mirroring the greying of their original occupants. The next generation of residents who grew up in Queenstown, were heading towards newer estates due to a lack of development and various restrictions to own flats in mature estates.
Demolition works in the aging residential estate commenced in the 1990s and 2000s and many iconic landmarks such as Tah Chung Emporium and Queenstown Japanese Gardens were torn down. After the closure of these amenities, the role of Margaret Drive Hawker Centre as a field of care intensified as it became the only pillar for social construction and more importantly, a site for reminiscence. Residents expressed their regrets over the eventual demise of Margaret Drive Hawker Centre and wondered if more could be done to preserve the social memory of the Queenstown community.
Ho Kong Chong is Associate Professor of Sociology and Vice Dean (Research) at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore. Trained as an urban sociologist at the University of Chicago, Dr Ho’s research interests are in the political economy of cities, urban communities, higher education, and youth.
Lai Chee Kien is Assistant Professor at the Department of Architecture, National University of Singapore. He is a registered architect, and researches on histories of art, architecture, settlements, urbanism and landscapes in Southeast Asia. He lived in and went to school in Queenstown in the 1970s to 80s.
Daniel Goh is an Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology in National University of Singapore. His core research interest has been on the historical and sociological relationship between culture and state formation. He is a co-investigator in a research project on Heritage Conservation in Queenstown.
Tan Kok Yang is a consultant who spends his early years in Queenstown during the 1960s and 1970s. He holds a PhD degree in Housing Environments and is also the author of best-selling book From the Blue Windows: Recollections of Life in Singapore’s Queenstown area in the 1960s and 1970s.
Yu-Mei Balasingamchow is the co-author of the award-winning history book Singapore: A Biography. She has written extensively on Singapore heritage and is also working on her first novel. She spent a lot of time in Queenstown as a child in the 1980s, and lived briefly at Mei Ling Street in 2012. Her website is http://www.toomanythoughts.org.
Lam Chun See is a best-selling author and an avid heritage blogger at http://www.goodmorningyesterday.blogpsot.com. He had written numerous blog articles on Singapore in the 1960s and 1970s. He learnt driving at the former Queenstown Test Driving Centre.