Princess House is a seven-storey building along Alexandra Road which was designated as the new office for the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) and later, as the first dedicated headquarters for the Housing and Development Board (HDB). Princess House was opened in 1957 as a multi-purpose office building which housed the Social Welfare and Licensing departments in the western wing and offices to be rented to the public in the eastern wing.
The overall form of Princess House follows the aesthetics of 1950s Modern architecture where its simple design, economic use of materials and decoration, adheres to the “form follows function” dictum in the articulation of the building elements. The building also features an innovative shallow “U-shaped” roof which can be used as a viewing deck. Various foreign dignitaries such as Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh; Princess Margaret; Edward Health, then Prime Minister of Australia, had visited Princess House to learn about Singapore’s housing programme.
After Singapore gained internal self-governance in 1959, the SIT was dissolved and the HDB was subsequently established. In May 1960, the HDB moved its main offices from Upper Pickering Street to Princess House. At Princess House, the HDB launched the “Home Ownership for the People Scheme” in 1964, which set the path for Singapore’s high home ownership rate today.
In 1972, the Ministry of Environment took over the premise and an adjacent 4-storey complex. Phoon Hon Sum (b.1949), a hawker at the former Commonwealth Avenue Cooked Food Centre for 38 years, recalled applying for a hawker license at the Hawker and Licensing Department: “There were long queues in the room. When I collected my hawker license, I was extremely thrilled. I was allowed to rent a proper stall at a hawker centre.”
Princess House was gazetted for conservation in 2007 after the Ministry of Environment vacated the premise in 1989. As the surrounding blocks of flats around Princess House are redeveloped, the conservation of Princess House serves as a lasting reminder of Queenstown’s history.