by LEE Hui Lian
This dissertation explores spatial stories of the pre-war Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats through anecdotal fragments and biographical accounts in its architectural history. As a pioneering public housing project in 1920s Singapore, the SIT flats were the first signs of modernity in the domestic character of Singapore’s housing development history. As such, its domesticity, which is conceived in opposition to modernity, has been largely suppressed. However, fragments of its domestic nature still linger, striding between the unnoted and the legitimate, as these flats are interspersed in the landscape of Singapore’s public housing today.
The SIT anecdotes necessitate story-telling, which in turn relate to the construction of spatial stories. These stories resist conformity to a generic historical narrative. A fragment in historical reference points to a subject that provides alternative views to sanctioned history. The anecdotal which is a fragment, thus opens up possibilities to reinterpret the official scripts. As Michel de Certeau’s argues, stories may start to erode the establishment of the place.
Through the selection of anecdotal fragments, the SIT flats will be re-examined through three specific themes – ‘house of torture’ visits the abject and fear in the context of Japanese occupation in 1940s Singapore; ‘den of beauties’ explores vice and infidelity through the façade of public housing; and lastly, ‘madwoman’ looks at how hysteria and taboo affect the perception of place.
By stringing these anecdotes together, my argument does not seek to turn perceived truths into historical artefacts. Rather, one may find in these historical fragments alternative, albeit controversial, modes of architectural knowledge and histories. Ultimately, these modes of knowledge would necessitate a re-appraisal of the SIT flats, on the basis that they are not merelymass housing blueprints.