Part of the old campus of Singapore Polytechnic, the first polytechnic in Singapore, will likely be giving way for the construction of the upcoming Prince Edward MRT Station of the Circle Line.
The history of Singapore Polytechnic stretched back to the early fifties, when the idea of a polytechnic in Singapore was first proposed. In the first half of the 19th century, it appeared there was no actual need for Singapore to have a technical institution, as the former British colony was striving for an economy based on trades and commercial activities.
After the Second World War, the entrepot trade’s importance declined; the rose of industrialisation in Singapore signaled a need for technical education, and this began to show by the early fifties due to the lack of technically trained people. In April 1952, a group made up of Rotarians, Technical Association of Malaya members, lawyers, teachers and the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) representatives met at the Adelphi Roof Garden and agreed that a polytechnic in Singapore was necessary.
The colonial government responded by setting up a study committee to look into the suggestion. In late 1953, with the submitted report, the government acknowledged the need for a polytechnic. Establishing a technical institution finally became a reality on 27 October 1954 when the Legislative Council passed the Singapore Polytechnic Ordinance “for the purpose of providing studies, training and research in the technology, science, commerce and arts”. In early 1955, the first board of governors for the polytechnic was appointed, with J.D. Williams selected as the first principal.
The construction of Singapore’s first polytechnic took place in 1957; the Prince Edward Road campus was completed about a year later, at a cost of $11.5 million. Before the establishment of Singapore Polytechnic, the only technical schools in Singapore were the Balestier Junior School (set up in 1930), St Joseph’s Trade School (1938), Malay Crafts School (1940s) and Maris Stella Vocational School (1940s).
The Pioneering Years
Designed in the modernist architectural style, the campus had a prominent main rectangular foyer with distinctive mosaic patterns. It was situated next to the sea, which has been reclaimed into present-day Marina Bay. The Palmer House, former home to the Chinese Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), was located behind the campus, and the eight-storey Asian Seamen’s Club stood a short distance away.
More than 3,000 students had enrolled in 58 courses provided by the new polytechnic, which was also the first technical institution in Southeast Asia, ranging from engineering, accountancy, navigation to plumbing, brickwork and plastering. In the 1958/59 semester, there were 700 full time students and over 2,800 part time students. Almost 1,000 had signed up for the engineering course.
On 24 February 1959, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, officiated the opening of Singapore Polytechnic accompanied by Sir William Goode, the then-Governor of Singapore.
In mid-1960, the polytechnic adopted its crest in the form of a red and yellow shield with the phrase “Berkhidmat Dengan Keahlian” (“to serve with skill”) written on it. The phrase referred to the objective of the polytechnic, which was to train the manpower required for Singapore’s industries.
The sixties saw the Singapore Polytechnic used as a hosting venue for numerous seminars and exhibitions, such as the Malaysia Student Photographic Exhibition (1963), Singapore Arts Society Exhibition (1963), Exhibition of Light Industries Service Unit (1964), Public Service International’s Seminar (1964), Proliferation Security Initiative Seminar (1964), International Machine Tool and Metalworking Industries Exhibition (1965), Building Industry Exhibition (1965), Food Industries Exhibition (1965) and Polytechnic Students’ Union Seminar (1966). Important local political leaders such as Lee Kuan Yew, Toh Chin Chye and Goh Keng Swee were regularly invited as guests of honour at the exhibitions and seminars.
In addition to its diploma courses, the Singapore Polytechnic also started introducing degree courses in 1965. In doing so, the aim was to develop Singapore Polytechnic into an institute of advanced technology that could award its own degrees. However, this did not happen. In 1968, 68 Singapore Polytechnic engineering students were conferred degrees but by the then-University of Singapore.
In the following year, it was decided that the professional courses would be transferred to the University of Singapore’s Faculties of Architecture and Engineering. The polytechnic itself was restructured in the same year into the School of Industrial Technology and School of Nautical Studies. The University of Singapore’s Faculty of Architecture was also housed at the Singapore Polytechnic in the sixties. It remained there until 1970 when the faculty was relocated to the Kinloss House at Lady Hill Road.
By 1973, the number of engineering students at Singapore Polytechnic exceeded 4,800 – more than four times the enrolment in 1959. The polytechnic, in 1973, targeted to produce 2,500 technicians for the industries every year.
Due to the demands, the Singapore Polytechnic was expanded to three campuses in the seventies – its original campus at Prince Edward Road, a temporary Princess Mary campus, converted from a former British barracks, at Dover Road, and a third campus at Ayer Rajah Road. The Princess Mary campus was later demolished and replaced by a new school campus completed in 1979; it has since become the permanent campus of Singapore Polytechnic.
In late 1978, the Labour Ministry’s Employment Service and the Research and Statistics Department was shifted from Anson Road to the former Singapore Polytechnic building.
The campus was later occupied by the National Institute of Commerce (NIC) in 1982. Spending $7 million in the renovation and equipment, the NIC, a commercial institute developed by the Vocational and Industrial Training Board (VITB), offered a series of commercial courses and training with well-equipped facilities including advanced mini computers with programming, word processing and accounting capabilities, electric and electronic typewriters, and language and office training laboratories.
In the mid-nineties, the campus was leased out as a commercial entity renamed as Bestway Building, which later housed Mediacorp TV12 (formerly Singapore Television Twelve).
Today, the rapid pace of development is finally approaching the old Singapore Polytechnic campus, which has been sitting at the corner of the Tanjong Pagar district for more than half a century. As for now, the former campus’ main building will not be affected, but its other buildings will be demolished. By 2025, this historic area, also known as Tanjong Malang, will likely have a different look with the new Shenton Way Bus Terminal and a completed Prince Edward MRT Station.
Published: 16 April 2016
Updated: 18 November 2022
Hey, can you please do a post about the old ITE campuses?
Sure, will do it 🙂
The photo of Singaporeans Polytechnic in late 1970s don’t seem right. There’s an odd looking tower which I recall came into being during the late 1990s.
Good write up anyway. Always enjoy the background historical accounts.
i see a pic with the students in uniforms with tie. was the pic taken on a open house visit by sec sch students?
No, actually they belonged to a fresh batch of students enrolled at the Singapore Poly in 1973..
The Polytechnic is now known as Bestway Building.
There is an error on NIC – National Institute of Commerce occupied the building in 1982 and not 1983. This is because I was the the first batch that entered National Institute of Commerce in 1982. I would really appreciate if you can correct the facts. I had memories of the school and graduated in 1984. I can’t believe that it has been over 30 years since I left and National Institute of Commerce is no longer in existence.
Thanks Edward for sharing
Naming Circle Line 6: Revisiting Timeless History Along Palmer Road
23 May 2017
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has invited the public to suggest official names of three stations on Circle Line 6.
The stations, which will be completed in 2025, are currently known by their working names – Keppel, Cantonment and Prince Edward.
According to LTA, the names must identify the respective locations of the stations, illustrate the history of the area and/or reflect Singapore’s multi-racial and multi-cultural identity. Also, stations should not be named after public structures, or commercial and residential developments.
The survey will be open till 18 June. Contributors can send in suggestions to LTA via this link.
LTA will shortlist names that meet the naming criteria and send a final list of names for endorsement by the Street and Building Names Board. A public polling exercise will be conducted later this year to determine the final MRT station names.
Instead of naming the MRT stations based on their respective neighbourhood’s location, contributors could research on the historical significance of the places around the stations and on prominent individuals who have contributed to the neighbourhoods.
For instance, Beauty World MRT station refers to the amusement park that was converted to Beauty World Market during the postwar period.
Tan Kah Kee station, located near Hwa Chong Institution, is named after the Chinese philanthropist who founded the school.
Likewise, the area surrounding Prince Edward station has a history that dates back before modern Singapore, a reference to the country’s healing after the war.
When LTA announced the naming of the stations on its Facebook page on 15 May, a few netizens suggested Prince Edward station to be named after Muslim saint Habib Noh, whose tomb lies at the knoll of Mt Palmer.
Habib Noh, born Sayyid Noh bin Sayyid Mohamad bin Sayyid Ahmad Al-Habshi (1788 – 1866), was a Muslim saint who lived in Singapore. An influential and highly respected figure in the Muslim community, Habib Noh is believed to be a descendant of Prophet Muhammed.
The saint was a mystic, who was believed to have spiritual abilities such as healing and foretelling events.
Habib Noh was also recognised for performing a ritual of offering honey to newborns, followed by a supplication. Till this day, parents bring their babies to his tomb to receive blessings. Visitors also place bottles of drinking water beside the tomb to have them blessed by the soul of Habib Noh.
Soon after the saint’s death, a shrine was built over his tomb facing the current Haji Muhammad Salleh Mosque, which was built in 1903. His shrine is visited daily by Muslims from Singapore and abroad.
Mr Muhammad Alwardi Yacob, 31, who would like the station to be named after Habib Noh, said: “The fact that people have been coming from afar to visit him since his demise in 1866 is a testament to his great personality. More importantly, naming the station after the saint will allow Muslims here to be familiar with their country’s religious history.”
For Habib Noh’s legacy to live on and be remembered by future generations, the station, to be located north of Haji Muhammad Salleh Mosque, can be named after the Muslim saint.
Another place of worship resides along Palmer Road and has its history dating back to the pre-colonial period as well.
The first Hakka immigrants to Singapore erected a shrine that was located north of the MRT station. In 1844, as the Hakka community grew, the Fook Tet Soo Khek Temple was built on site.
The temple is the oldest Hakka institution in Singapore, symbolising the first Hakka people who have set foot in Singapore.
As the temple is located near the MRT station also, its name could reflect the Hakka pioneers of the country.
However, Madam Thuraffu Beevi, who has lived in Palmer Road from 1980 to 1987 suggested the MRT Station to be named Palmer station.
“It would be unfair to name the station after one of the two places of worship when both institutions are historically significant. Commuters would easily recognise Palmer station because it is easily relatable to Palmer Road that houses a mosque and a temple,” said the 65-year-old.
In addition to religious institutions, the vicinity housed a place of healing during the challenging post-war years.
Within walking distance of the MRT station is the current Monetary Authority of Singapore building. The Royal Singapore Tuberculosis Clinic occupied the same plot of land in the 1950s.
Soon after World War II, Singapore embarked on a fight against Tuberculosis (TB).
Mr S. H. Peek, Dr Chen Su Lan and Mr Lee Kong Chian, among other prominent individuals in Singapore, founded the Singapore Anti-Tuberculosis Association (SATA) in 1947.
In 1952, the Royal Singapore Tuberculosis Clinic was built to provide sufficient medical services for those suffering from TB. The new clinic was necessary because the number of TB patients surged to 130,000 in 1952.
The clinic operated for 10 years before incidence of TB was reduced in the late 1960s. Now, SATA is known as SATA CommHealth, a community healthcare provider with medical centres located islandwide.
With the healthcare provided by SATA and its founders’ aim to focus on the treatment and eradication of TB, the ubiquitous threat of TB was wiped out from the island within two decades.
The MRT station can be named after the founding members of SATA to reflect the association’s contributions to Singapore’s postwar healing.
Apart from the three historical facts that Popspoken has dug up, there are many more national stories about the vicinity around Prince Edward station. These stories can be reflected through the naming of the MRT stations.
Visit the library, explore Palmer Road, or talk to your elders – there are plenty of untold tales or facts that should be brought to light.
The buildings are undergoing demolition right now..
that aerial photo of singapore poly allegedly taken in the 70s is incorrect. dover mrt station(bottom right) was only built after 2000. the source or author has made an error.
Hi Terence, thanks for pointing the error. Have updated with the correct captions in this photo.