Domestic digressions: Interrogating Singaporean public housing through its literary forms

In The Routledge Research Companion to Architecture and Literature, Jonathan Charley, ed. (London: Routledge, 2018).

Singapore’s public housing flats (HDB) in the foreground. Photo: Lin Derong, 2017.

The common access balcony or corridor of a HDB flat. Photo: Lin Derong, 2017.

A HDB playground. Photo: Lin Derong, 2017.

Singapore’s public housing flats (HDB) in the foreground. Photo: Lin Derong, 2017.



With over eighty-two percent of the Singaporean population residing in public housing flats, the setting of the public housing estate is, not unexpectedly, a recurring subject in Singapore’s post-independence literature, the latter produced chiefly after the nation-state’s self-governance in 1965. Comparable to the earliest modernist social housing experiments in Europe including Germany (1920–30s) and United Kingdom (1930–60s) in its ambitions to obliterate poor urban living conditions and to improve the population’s general wellbeing, Singapore’s enduring and widespread public housing programme exceeded its European precedents as the most strident state-directed built exemplar. The Republic’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew declared in the 40th year of the housing programme that the project ‘epitomise (s) the success of Singaporean society and remain (s) a constant source of national pride’. 1





1. Kuan Yew Lee, ‘Foreword,’ in Toa Payoh: Our Kind of Neighbourhood (Singapore: Housing and Development Board, Times Media, 2000), unpaginated

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