The Tiong Bahru Market is home to popular hawker stalls.
The quaint neighbourhood of Tiong Bahru – known for its elegant 1930s-1950s art deco residential blocks and its network of trendy cafes and popular hawker stalls – comfortably straddles both the past and present.
The estate started out as a lowland swamp. In 1859, the Tiong Lama cemetery (located in and around the present-day Singapore General Hospital compound) was moved to Tiong Bahru. This development is captured in the estate’s name – tiong means die in Hokkien while baru means new in Malay. The cemetery housed the remains of members of the Cantonese and Hakka communities in Singapore. The area was also home to villagers of Kampong Tiong Bahru.
Over time, the lack of infrastructure resulted in sanitation problems. In the 1920s, the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) stepped in. It worked to redevelop the land and build new homes. It was the first public housing estate ever spearheaded by the SIT. Tiong Bahru’s burial grounds were exhumed and slums were cleared before building works began in the late 1930s. The first wave of homes comprised 28 council flats and four shops. These were completed in 1936. In the following years, the SIT built even more flats. By 1941, records indicate that the area was home to 784 flats, 54 tenements, 33 shops. It also housed 6,000 occupants. Due to steep rental rates, the estate grew to be occupied by wealthier individuals and families as well as the mistresses of rich men.
During the war, the estate suffered some damage. The chaos wreaked by the Japanese across the island affected livelihoods and changed the fate of many. By the end of the war, a more diverse group of residents – such as middle-income families – had moved into Tiong Bahru.
In 1954, the SIT added another 1,258 flats to Tiong Bahru. These four storey post-war flats were popular among locals due to planners’ considerate incorporation of communal green and open spaces. A community centre and polyclinic also rose in the estate to serve the growing residential population in Tiong Bahru.
Today, the value of Tiong Bahru’s flats has soared due in part to their aesthetic merits as well as their historical roots.