What The World Can Learn From Singapore’s Housing Projects

Ever wanted to live in a housing project? Think again. Singapore’s HBD’s will change the way you think about government housing.

By Jeff Vasishta March 17, 2017

Mention that 80 percent of a country’s population lives in tenement like public housing and you’d make sure sure to give that country a wide berth if ever someone suggested a visit. However, Singapore’s housing estates confound the popular notion of squalid, crime ridden apartment projects. In fact, they might just be enough to make you want to ditch your mortgage and move in.

Singapore has evolved the concept of public housing over the last 50 years. Today all public housing is prefabricated with a focus on eco friendly, sustainable buildings and community social spaces including man-made waterways, energy, water and waste management, rooftop greenery providing passive cooling systems, and urban vertical gardens. Also in the works are plans for rainwater harvesting systems, an increased use of solar panels, and dual-parking systems for bicycles. But a house is not a home, or in this case an apartment, without people and communal spirit. The fact that 90 percent of these apartments are now owned by their residents, with subsidies from the government is a testament to their popularity.

Related: Vietnam: From Pariah To Paradise – Why Now May Be The Time To Buy

No one ethnicity lives in these buildings (known as HBD’s — as they were implemented by the Housing and Development Board). In 1989 the government created an Ethnic Integration Policy in relation to public housing. This ensured that HDBs represented the full diversity of the nation (in which 4 languages are spoken — English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil) and thus avoided the creation of ghettos.

Also, HDBs usually keep the ground floor of the apartment blocks as open public space. This encourages communal get togethers. Grills, benches and pavilions are also common as centers of social activity.

Related: Is Vietnam Becoming The Next China? Real Estate Developers Think So

Skyville is a new 47-storey building and a leading light of Singapore’s HBD’s. It was 12 times oversubscribed and sold out within days of flats being offered, off-plan — long before construction started.

“Ours was the first development to offer floor plan options, so in a flat that potentially had three bedrooms you could choose to put in only two bedrooms and have a very big living-dining (room) or have room for a home office,” Richard Hassell, founding director of WOHA Architects, which built the block in conjunction with Singapore’s (HDB), told CNN.

The development itself comprises 12 “villages.” Each is made up of 80 apartments. The communal space are landscaped rooftop “sky gardens.”

Ventilation and natural light along with energy efficiency are key components, which work in conjunction with the country’s warm climate.

Jeff Vasishta



Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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