The former Kallang Airport, Singapore’s first civil airport, was officially opened in June 1937. It took a total of six years and $8 million for the airport to be built on the reclaimed lands of Kallang Basin, which was formerly a huge mangrove swamp filled with crocodiles and mosquitoes. Thousands of tons of clay subsoil were transported to Kallang Basin – it took almost 6.2 million cubic metres to fill the dense swamp.
The early civil planes were landed at Seletar airport, which was built in the late 1920s and was the main airbase for the Royal Air Force (RAF). In 1931, the Governor of Singapore Sir Cecil Clementi (1875-1947) proposed a location at Kallang Basin to serve as a new international airport to serve mainly commercial airplanes.
The buildings at Kallang Airport were designed with early-modernist British architecture fitted with Art Deco ornaments. The runway was a grassy zone which was also suitable for the landing of seaplanes. The airport’s boundary became what is known as Old Airport Road today. Kallang Airport in its early days had an excellent reputation, to the extent that it was dubbed to be the finest airport in the British Empire.
When the Japanese invaded from the north, Kallang Airport became the only operational airfield for the British to launch their fighters, due to Seletar, Sembawang and Tengah airbases being fall within the firing ranges of the Japanese artillery at Johor.
After the fall of Singapore, Kallang Airport was occupied by the invading forces and a concrete runway was built in place of the grassy one. When the Second World War ended, the British reclaimed the airport but it was not until 1949 before the civil traffic resumed.
Made of glass, steel and concrete, the Terminal Building was a masterpiece of Modernist style, designed by Frank Dorrington Ward, the Chief Architect of the Public Works Department. The building, with streamlined curves, striking horizontal lines and especially its control tower, became an iconic landmark at Kallang.
Used to park the various aircraft, the white hangars were built with simplicity and had amble spaces and lighting for the technical personnel to do their maintenance.
By the early 1950s, the increasing amount of air traffic at Kallang Airport strained its capacity, and in just a couple of years after its resumption, a proposal was laid out to build a bigger airport at Paya Lebar. Kallang Airport was officially closed after Paya Lebar International Airport was opened in August 1955.
After the closure of the airport, the buildings were taken over by the People’s Association (PA) in 1960, which made the premises its headquarters for almost 50 years, until 2009. The East and West Blocks of Kallang Airport formerly served as the airline offices. Together with the Terminal Building, hangars, the main gate and the lamp posts, they were gazetted for conservation in December 2008.
The Old Kallang Airport used to be linked to the former National Stadium by a pedestrian overhead bridge spanning over Nicoll Highway. The unique bridge, with extra wide pathway and had short lampposts installed on it, was built in the eighties, with one of its side ending at the large stadium carpark.
Published: 23 July 2012
Updated: 01 November 2016