Kampong Silat SIT Flats

The flats located at Silat Avenue were mostly built between 1949 and 1952 by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT), the predecessor of the Housing Development Board (HDB), making them the second oldest surviving public housing estate in Singapore after the Tiong Bahru pre-war flats.

The neighbourhood used to be known as Kampong Silat, with its name probably derived from the Malay martial arts. A Silat Community Centre once stood along Silat Avenue, only to be replaced by a point-block flat and a nursing home after the late nineties.

The squarish Art Deco-styled flats, mostly three- or four-storied tall, have wooden window panes, large balconies and a huge red-tiled roof with chimney-like structures. Such designs were also used in the construction of SIT flats elsewhere in Singapore, such as Princess Elizabeth Park at Upper Bukit Timah.

There were originally 15 flats built, with their block numbers ranging between 17 and 31. Two of the front blocks that stood facing Kampong Bahru Road, numbered 20 and 21, were demolished in the late nineties.

An interesting and unique feature about these SIT flats is that, despite standing close to each others, the blocks’ addresses are categorized by the three roads that run around them, namely Silat Avenue, Silat Walk and Kampong Bahru.

In 2007, all the 13 SIT flats were announced to be part of the Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) program. By the first half of 2012, most of the flats were vacated.

On the opposite side of Kampong Bahru Road stand two high-rise HDB flats (Block 1 and 2) that once housed the personnel of the Royal Malaysian Customs and Malayan Railways Limited, or Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM).

Built in the eighties by HDB, the two flats are called the Kemuning Residential Block and Melati Residential Block. The blocks are also commonly known as the Spooner Road flats, where Spooner Road is the minor road that leads to the small estate and was named after Charles Edwin Spooner (1853-1909), the State Engineer of the Public Works Department during the British colonial era. The road to the former property of KTM was appropriately named as Spooner was also the head of the Federated Malay States Railways in 1901.

In 2011, the flats, as part of the KTM railway premises, were handed over to the Singapore Land Authority (SLA). The former KTM workers’ quarters were then converted into rental flats with 10 years’ leases.

Also read Singapore En-Bloc Flats.

Published: 20 September 2012

Updated: 14 June 2013

26 Responses to Kampong Silat SIT Flats

  1. Tim says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I did not know the spooner flats were to be converted – looks like this area may not be ‘redeveloped’ in the near future – hopefully.

  2. Lucy Tan says:

    Thank you for sharing your excellent photos and information. I grew up in Kampong Silat. It’s a treasured landmark in my memory of childhood.

    • Louisa says:

      Hi Lucy,

      I’m Louisa. My friends and I are currently doing a mini-documentary on Kampong Silat and are looking for past residents to interview. If you do see this and would like to share your views about your time staying there, do drop me an email at gohr0007@e.ntu.edu.sg. Thanks (:


      • Lucy Tan says:

        Hi Louisa
        That sounds like an interesting project. However, I live overseas now (Switzerland) and it’ll be difficult for us to meet for an interview :-).

        Have fun and loads of success with the doc.

    • Susan Yap says:

      I grew up in Kg
      silat Est too. My old address Blk 20 Kg Bahru Road 280-C. Do you happen to know Irene Tan who stayed in Block 21 also on the 4th floor.

  3. The Spooner Road flats have been given a fresh coat of paint now

    The old M.R. Running Bungalow, the former resting bunks for the KTM train drivers, is also under renovation (but not sure what it will be turned into, let’s hope it won’t be demolished)

  4. Gerald Lim Vernon says:

    Used to visit my then grandma’s flat in Kg Bahru and she used to lived in the 2nd floor during the 80’s. I could tell you that the living hall was extremely large, that could hold 2 large round tables of 10pax each, or 5 mahjong tables and even have the space to walk, and so as the Kitchen and the Rooms.
    I remembered when I was young and during every Saturdays, my family and I would visit my grandma, together with my 7 Uncles and 6 Aunties and including my cousins (mostly are from my Mom’s side). Everyone would made a heck-lot-of noise as they loved that till now even my grand-parents weren’t around, and I do not know why. You could imagined how big my (Cantonese) family was at time and also not being boastful, my grandma was my grandpa’s first wife. (During pre/post-war time, polygamy for non-Muslim was allowed till the 60’s). So imagined the crowd during the Chinese New Year, his (grandpa) other 2 wives together with their off-springs and off off-springs would also dropped by. Totally madness…
    Anyways, there are some of these type of (similiar) houses along Tiong Bahru Road. You could drive or walk by during the evenings to catch a glimpse in the interior, and mostly are occupied by the expats.
    BTW…my Dad’s a pure Peranakan, and so that makes me a half-Peranakan? “-_-

  5. Jonno says:

    Didn’t there used to be a notorious group of mini cooper (original Mini, not BMW mini) enthusiasts living around the Kampong Bahru area? Once saw Frankie Boo, Mini racer, chicken rice seller who used to sell at a coffee shop along Short Street at Kampong Bahru with his famous mini cooper S. Mostly Indians, Sikhs & Eurasians in the mini clique.

  6. karen says:

    I used to live at block 18 Silat Road from 1953 to 1961 when I was born till I was 9years old. We stayed on the top floor and I used to come downstairs to play.

    • Lucy Tan says:

      Hi Karen
      There’s Louisa (see her comment above) who is doing a mini-documentary on former residents. Why not get in touch with her at: gohr0007@e.ntu.edu.sg. and help her with an interview?

    • Melissa says:

      Hi Karen,

      I’m working on a mini project to analyse the former SIT flats throught the occupancy point of view. I will love to learn more
      about your story if you don’t mind sharing. Kindly contect me if you’re interested:) thanks!

  7. Joseph says:

    This really brings back memories. My family used to live on the first floor in Block 30, where Silat Walk ended in a t-shaped cul-de-sac. The cul-de-sac itself was lined with a row of concrete garbage receptacles which were later demolished after a proper bin center was built next to Block 25 (this was later removed and a new one was erected at the previous location). Behind the row of receptacles was a large field (looked at least to a kid) where a makeshift open-air cinema operated in the weekends. For 10 cents one can watch old Hollywood westerns, Hong Kong kungfu shows, Shaw Brothers local Malay thrillers or whatever the operators happened to lay their hands on. If one was broke, no problem, just find a space on top of the concrete garbage receptacles, settle down and watch the show from the back of the giant fabric screen. The operators tried hanging a black cloth to block out the view but enough of the show filtered through for a decent viewing. The only drawback: everything was in reverse! A show like that was always going to be a big draw, pulling in the crowd as well as hawkers and roadside peddlers for miles around. Almost every weekend, depending on the weather, there was a carnival going on!

    The field itself was L-shaped intersected by footpaths and part of it extended to the back of my block. Almost every evening the neighbourhood kids took to a soccer match enthusiastically and it was no surprise that we often find a wayward ball in our kitchen balcony.

    But the best part of my childhood was spent exploring the strip of land acting as a buffer between the field and the KTM railway lines. It was a haven for small animals – birds, monitor lizards, rodents, and of course, fighting spiders. My neighbours and I would sneak in through a hole in the wire mesh fence and spent hours hunting.

    Looking away in the opposite direction, Silat Walk opened up to the shop-lined Silate Square (if I remember correctly). At the far end was a tiny chapel, the Kampong Bahru Gospel Center which later relocated to Mattar Road in Macpherson and become the Grace Baptist Church.
    Now looking back, the actual physical size of the neighbourhood wasn’t that big, but to a small kid, it was the perfect romping ground.

    It is sad to see it go for the sake of new developments, but hey, thanks for the memories.

    • Lucy says:

      I can remember the open-air cinema but no idea where that field was exactly. The entry-price was 10 cents and kids free. I remember playing football with my cousins in a field between SIT blocks as well. And we used to go search for fighting spiders in the lalang field on the slope beside the railway lines. The lalang grass was taller than most of us. And end of the year we flew kites on that slope.

  8. Ricky Lim says:

    I was born in Silat Road in 1966, my address previously was 82A, Silat Road,we moved out in 1973,which i started primary 1 in Silat Primary School,our school do have different school badge, morning class is called Silat 1, afternoon class is Silat 2. When i was young, we like to play at d low rise buildings. cos there is a slide. My house is directly at e entrance to e Chinese temple called Tai Yang Kong( The Sun Temple). My mum use 2 work a construction worker in Kg Bahru Chinese temple which named is Tang Gak Bio(The Hell Temple)

    • Joseph says:

      Ah, the slide … and if I’m not mistaken, there were swings too. Located just behind a U-shaped 4-storied apartment block (painted red), in some sort of a “courtyard” due to the building layout, they were a delight to the neighbourhood kids. The apartment block sat above a basement and each ground floor unit had a staircase leading from the kitchen to the “courtyard” below. Painted white, they stood out against the red. I remembered always wondering what it’s like to use those stairs. And of course the basement and what lurked in there was always a common topic among the neighbourhood kids.

    • Susan Yap says:

      Ricky, I was also born in Kampong Bahru Road Block 20. In those days, its legal.

  9. Lucy says:

    Thanks for sharing. I can remember all these landmarks. The Tai Yang Kong was the temple basically next-door to the Silat Primary, right? My Dad used to drive his car to the front yard of the temple on Sundays and there, in the shade of huge tree, washed and polished his precious car. Sometimes, a few of us kids went along for the ride and played about the yard till he was done. The Tang Gak Bio was next-door to the St Theresa Catholic Church. I wonder if it’s still there.

    • Susan Yap says:

      Yes, you are right, Lucy. it’s hard to forget all these old memories. Myfamily moved out
      of the flat in 1997 after they were allocated a flat opposite Jurong Point. Block 20 had already been demolised. Very sad!

  10. Joseph says:

    I was born and bred in kampong Bahru , used to live in the Railway quarters (not Melati or Kemuning) there were other Railway quarters before these were built. I used to go often to Silat Road to buy kites. I am now 53 years old. I can never forgot those good memories. There used to be a cemetery there.

  11. Good news…

    5 blocks of Kampong Silat SIT flats (18, 19, 22, 23 & 24 Silat Avenue) will be conserved as part of the URA Master Plan 2014

  12. Tim says:

    Just passed by yesterday for a photoshoot and no wonder they tore down some of the older blocks(I believed there were some blocks 17? that were on the slope that were torn down now. So it seems like they are conversing only certain blocks. I wonder what will they become if. This is certainly an interesting area as when are walking around, you will feel a kampong feeling like . Rare indeed in Singapore now.

  13. Lucy says:

    The address of my grandmother’s house was 81A Silat Rd (if I remember correctly). Now I’m wondering which house was 82A. You must have been one of the neighbours’ little boy … :-)

  14. Stephen Tan says:

    I am now living in Australia, having migrated to Christmas Island in 1969, i originally a Singaporean, born in the old St. Andrew’s Hospital at Tanjong Pagar in 1943. I don’t think it’s there any longer. I live in a little row of flats, at Silat Walk, since I was born, until the age of about 6 years old, my parents passed away. I was then brought up by my Uncle and Aunt at Spooner Road, just next to Silat Road area. We lived at Johore Flats, opposite the now Running Bungalow, thankfully now still exist. Then a couple of years later, my uncle got a promotion, we then moved to Pahang Flats, a two bed room unit, on the 2nd floor. This was when I started schooling at Sacred Heart Boy’s School at Kampong Bahru, the principal Mr. Charles d’Rozerio, (I hope my spelling is correct) a few years later I was transferred to the newly build De La Salle School. That was about 1952. That school is no longer De La Salle. So, back to Spooner Road, and a few years after, we moved again from Pahang Flats to Perak Flats, a three bedroom. I left Spooner Road in 1963 and stayed at Klang, Malaya for the next six years, before i went to Christmas Island in 1969, I am now living in Australia . Times have changed, they are beautiful memories of the passed, they will never go away.

  15. Susan Yap says:

    I guess u must have live in those SIT terrace houses. Those which had a living room and a huge bedroom which had an entrance to living room and another leading to the bathroom n toilet area. The kitchen is long and the roof is open. Very interesting, as I recalled those houses. May I ask which unit were you living in. I believe you are the row of houses behind the coffee shop, photostudio, sundries shops and a Grace Baptist Church. We may know each other cos I frequent there very often as a kid.

  16. Stephen Tan says:

    Yes, I lived in one of those Terrace houses, 97, Silat Road, around 1945-1950. Outside our terrace was a commom public bath place, just by the side of Silat Road. Night soil was collected in the early hours of the morning. Right on top of our unit, were those flashy new S.I.T. Flats, 3 storeys I think.

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