Former Kallang Airport building



The former Kallang Airport building is an architectural landmark located at 9 Stadium Link along Nicoll Highway. Kallang Airport, Singapore's first purpose-built civil airport, was opened on 12 June 1937 in the Kallang Basin area. The airport ceased operations following the opening of Paya Lebar Airport in 1955. However, the airport building continued to be used by various groups, including the Singapore Youth Sports Council, People’s Association (PA), Public Works Department (PWD) and the Central Manpower Base (CMPB). The former airport building was gazetted for conservation by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in 2008 and subsequently used as one of the main venues for the 2011 Singapore Biennale.1 In 2012, the building was featured in a photograph exhibition held at the Asian Civilisations Museum.2

Background
A new civil aerodrome
Prior to the construction of Kallang Airport, aerodromes in Sembawang and Seletar, constructed in the 1920s, served civil aircraft and the Royal Air Force (RAF).3 However, on 31 August 1931, Governor Sir Cecil Clementi announced that the government had decided to build a new civil aerodrome in the Kallang Basin area.4


In his announcement, Sir Cecil Clementi proclaimed, "Looking into the future, I expect to see Singapore become one of the largest and most important airports of the world ... It is, therefore, essential that we should have here, close to the heart of the town, an aerodrome which is equally suitable for land planes and for sea planes; and the best site, beyond all question, is the Kallang Basin."5

Construction and opening
Construction of the airport began in 1931 with the reclamation of 300 acres of mangrove swamp in the Kallang Basin area.6 The construction works resulted in the displacement of Malays living in the area, who were relocated by the government to another location that later became known as Kampung Melayu.7 Kallang Airport was officially opened on 12 June 1937 by Governor Sir Shenton Thomas.8 Three Hawker Ospreys from the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes were the first aircraft to land at Kallang Airport on 21 November 1935.9

Description
In its early years, Kallang Airport was described as the "finest airport in the British Empire" on account of its superior facilities.10 During a 1937 stopover, the famous aviator Amelia Earhart called the airport "an aviation miracle of the East".11

The main terminal building had a control tower and two side blocks with attached hangars. It was designed by Frank Dorrington Ward, the PWD’s chief architect at the time. Reflecting early modernist British architecture, its interiors, including railings and columns, were detailed with Art Deco ornamentation.12 During World War II, the Japanese turned the airport’s grass landing into a concrete runway and extended it to 5,500 ft.13 However, it was not until 1949 that civil aviation traffic passed through Kallang Airport once more.14

Growth and development
Following the introduction of British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) Comet planes in 1951, the Kallang airfield was extended to accommodate the larger aircrafts. Prior to the completion of the airfield extension works, the Comets had to be directed to the RAF Changi airfield.15

The first air crash at Kallang Airport occurred on 13 March 1954. A BOAC Constellation plane exploded and burst into flames upon landing on the runway. Two crew members and 31 passengers died in the crash. A public inquiry into the incident, beginning on 31 May and lasting several months, concluded that the airport’s poor fire service was partly to blame for the high number of deaths. The cause of the crash was attributed to pilot error.16


Closure and redevelopment
Even after the airport had been expanded, it was still unable to accommodate the increased air traffic and larger planes coming into Singapore. As early as 1950, plans were made to build a new airport at Paya Lebar to replace Kallang Airport.17 When the new Paya Lebar Airport opened in 1955, Kallang Airport ceased operations and the airport building was occupied by the Singapore Youth Sports Council.18


The former airport’s premises became the site of a historically significant event on 18 March 1956 when some 20,000 people gathered there for a mass merdeka (freedom) rally with speeches by political figures such as Chief Minister David Marshall. A riot ensued, with people attacking the police and attempting to break into the terminal building, all the while shouting “merdeka”. At least 50 people were injured as a result of the riot. The incident tainted Marshall's credibility when he attended the first Merdeka talks in London four days later, thus delaying negotiations over Singapore’s independence.19

From 1960 to 2009, the PA headquarters was located within the premises of the former airport. Initially, the PA occupied the main terminal building and one of the side towers while the other tower block was used by the PWD. The latter block was taken over by the PA in 1990 and renamed the Youth Block.20 From 1967 to 1972, the CMPB also used the premises to conduct the enlistment of national servicemen.21 In 1973, the National Stadium was constructed on what used to be the airport’s runway area.22

The former airport building was reopened in March 1994 following conservation works costing S$4.16 million. The green tinted windows, original main entrance facing Kallang Road and four tiers of steps at the base of the building were restored. The former airport’s emblem of a lion against a coconut tree was also reconstructed.23 On 5 December 2008, the building was gazetted for conservation by URA.24 The site has since been slated to be turned into a lifestyle hub called Old Airport Square as part of the development of the Kallang area into Kallang Riverside.25

The former airport building was subsequently chosen as one of the main venues to exhibit contemporary artworks during the 2011 Singapore Biennale. While some visitors complained about the poor condition of the building, others felt that it could continue to be used as a contemporary art space.26 In 2012, the building was featured in the exhibition Shadow Spaces: Photographs of the Old Supreme Court held at the Asian Civilisations Museum.27


Timeline

21 Nov 1935: Three Hawker Ospreys from the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes were the first aircraft to land at Kallang Airport.28
12 Jun 1937: The airport was officially opened by Governor Sir Shenton Thomas.29
1950: Plans to build the Paya Lebar Airport were made. Kallang Airport was also ranked as the second busiest airport in the Far East.30
13 Mar 1954: Kallang Airport saw its first air crash.31
1955: With the new Paya Lebar Airport operational, the Kallang Airport ceased operations and the Singapore Youth Sports Council took over the premises.32
18 Mar 1956: The former Kallang Airport premises was used as the venue of a merdeka rally that turned into a riot.33
1960–2009: The former airport building was used to house the PA headquarters.34
1967–1972: The CMB used the former airport premises for enlistment activities.35
1973: The National Stadium was built on the former airport’s runway area.36
Mar 1994: The former airport building was reopened after conservation works.37
5 December 2008: The former airport building was gazetted for conservation by the URA.38
2011:
The former airport building was used as one of the main venues for the Singapore Biennale.39

2012: The former airport building was featured in the exhibition Shadow Spaces: Photographs of the Old Supreme Court held at the Asian Civilisations Museum.40



Author

Vernon Cornelius and Jan Yap



References
1. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (2008, August 5). Former Kallang Airport. Retrieved from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: http://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/conservation/conservation-xml.aspx?id=FKA; Old Kallang Airport building restored. (1994, January 13). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Teo, C. W. (2007, July 1). 10 iconic camps. The Straits Times, p. 111. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Shetty, D. (2011, May 17). Biennale a big hit. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
2. Asian Civilizations Museum. (2012, March 24–September 16). Shadow spaces: Photographs of the Old Supreme Court. Retrieved from Asian Civilizations Museum website: http://www.acm.org.sg/ACMPortal/?_afrRedirect=3337801472918593
3. Birdman. (1936). Malaya in the Air Age (p. 17–18). In The Straits Times annual (p. 17) [Microfilm: NL 7746]. Singapore: Straits Times.
4. Kallang and the future. (1953, December 14). The Singapore Free Press, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Hutton, P. (1981). Wings over Singapore: The story of Singapore Changi Airport. Singapore: MPH Magazines, pp. 22–23. (Call no.: RSING 387.736095957 HUT); Singapore. Department of Civil Aviation. (1982). Singapore fly-past: A pictorial review of civil aviation in Singapore, 1911–1981. Singapore: MPH Magazines, p. 29. (Call no.: RSING 387.7095957 SIN); Turnbull, C. M. (2009). A history of modern Singapore, 1819–2005. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 149. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS]);
5. Hutton, P. (1981). Wings over Singapore: The story of Singapore Changi Airport. Singapore: MPH Magazines, p. 23. (Call no.: RSING 387.736095957 HUT); Singapore. Department of Civil Aviation. (1982). Singapore fly-past: A pictorial review of civil aviation in Singapore, 1911–1981. Singapore: MPH Magazines, p. 29. (Call no.: RSING 387.7095957 SIN)
6. New airport is on site of former swamp. (1937, June 12). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; When Kallang was a swamp. (1950, December 9). The Singapore Free Press, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Kallang and the future. (1953, December 14). The Singapore Free Press, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Turnbull, C. M. (2009). A history of modern Singapore, 1819–2005. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 156. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS]).
8. Old Kallang Airport building restored. (1994, January 13). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Urban Redevelopment Authority.(2008, August 5). Former Kallang Airport. Retrieved from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: http://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/conservation/conservation-xml.aspx?id=FKA
9. Air-liner lands at Kallang. (1937, March 4). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Urban Redevelopment Authority.(2008, August 5). Former Kallang Airport. Retrieved from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: http://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/conservation/conservation-xml.aspx?id=FKA; Birdman. (1936). Malaya in the Air Age (pp. 17–18). In The Straits Times annual (p. 17) [Microfilm: NL 7746]. Singapore: Straits Times.
11. Old Kallang Airport building restored. (1994, January 13). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Urban Redevelopment Authority.(2008, August 5). Former Kallang Airport. Retrieved from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: http://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/conservation/conservation-xml.aspx?id=FKA
13. When Kallang was a swamp. (1950, December 9). The Singapore Free Press, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Singapore. Department of Civil Aviation. (1982). Singapore fly-past: A pictorial review of civil aviation in Singapore, 1911–1981. Singapore: MPH Magazines, p. 45. (Call no.: RSING 387.7095957 SIN)
15. Kallang and the future. (1953, December 14). The Singapore Free Press, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. 32 are killed in Kallang air disaster. (1954, March 14). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Opinion: Kallang crash inquiry. (1954, May 27). The Singapore Free Press, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; The Kallang Crash inquiry. (1954, November 16). The Singapore Free Press, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore. Department of Civil Aviation. (1982). Singapore fly-past: A pictorial review of civil aviation in Singapore, 1911–1981. Singapore: MPH Magazines, p. 50. (Call no.: RSING 387.7095957 SIN)
17. Kallang and the future. (1953, December 14). The Singapore Free Press, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Old Kallang Airport building restored. (1994, January 13). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Old Kallang Airport building restored. (1994, January 13). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Abisheganaden, F. (1956, March 19). ‘Siege’ on building – MPs left just in time. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tour of old Kallang Airport. (1994, March 13). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Flashback: March 1956. (1994, March 13). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Old Kallang Airport building restored. (1994, January 13). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Teo, C. W. (2007, July 1). 10 iconic camps. The Straits Times, p. 111. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Singapore. Department of Civil Aviation. (1982). Singapore fly-past: A pictorial review of civil aviation in Singapore, 1911–1981. Singapore: MPH Magazines, p. 50. (Call no.: RSING 387.7095957 SIN)
23. Old Kallang Airport building restored. (1994, January 13). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tour of old Kallang Airport. (1994, March 13). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Urban Redevelopment Authority.(2008, August 5). Former Kallang Airport. Retrieved from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: http://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/conservation/conservation-xml.aspx?id=FKA
25. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (2008, May 23). KALLANG RIVERSIDE: URA envisions Kallang Riverside to be a new lifestyle precinct by the edge of the city [Press release] Retrieved from Urban Redevelopment website: http://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/media-room/news/2008/may/~/media/User%20Defined/URA%20Online/media-room/2008/may/pr08-55a.ashx
26. Shetty, D. (2011, May 17). Biennale a big hit. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
27. Asian Civilizations Museum. (2012, March 24–September 16). Shadow spaces: Photographs of the Old Supreme Court. Retrieved from Asian Civilizations Museum website: http://www.acm.org.sg/ACMPortal/?_afrRedirect=3337801472918593
28. Air-liner lands at Kallang. (1937, March 4). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Old Kallang Airport building restored. (1994, January 13). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Urban Redevelopment Authority.(2008, August 5). Former Kallang Airport. Retrieved from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: http://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/conservation/conservation-xml.aspx?id=FKA
30. Kallang is now no. 2 airport in the Far East. (1950, April 14). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Old Kallang Airport building restored. (1994, January 13). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. 32 are killed in Kallang air disaster. (1954, March 14). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Opinion: Kallang crash inquiry. (1954, May 27). The Singapore Free Press, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; The Kallang Crash inquiry. (1954, November 16). The Singapore Free Press, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Old Kallang Airport building restored. (1994, January 13). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Abisheganaden, F. (1956, March 19). ‘Siege’ on building – MPs left just in time. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tour of old Kallang Airport. (1994, March 13). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Old Kallang Airport building restored. (1994, January 13). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Teo, C. W. (2007, July 1). 10 iconic camps. The Straits Times, p. 111. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. Singapore. Department of Civil Aviation. (1982). Singapore fly-past: A pictorial review of civil aviation in Singapore, 1911–1981. Singapore: MPH Magazines, p. 50. (Call no.: RSING 387.7095957 SIN)
37. Old Kallang Airport building restored. (1994, January 13). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tour of old Kallang Airport. (1994, March 13). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38. Urban Redevelopment Authority.(2008, August 5). Former Kallang Airport. Retrieved from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: http://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/conservation/conservation-xml.aspx?id=FKA
39. Shetty, D. (2011, May 17). Biennale a big hit. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
40. Asian Civilizations Museum. (2012, March 24–September 16). Shadow spaces: Photographs of the Old Supreme Court. Retrieved from Asian Civilizations Museum website: http://www.acm.org.sg/ACMPortal/?_afrRedirect=3337801472918593



Further Resources
Singapore. Ministry of Communications and Information. (1994). Singapore facts and pictures. (1994). Singapore: Ministry of Culture

(Call no.: RSING 959.57 SMCFFS-[HIS])

Tyers, R. K. (1976). Singapore, then & now. Singapore: University Education Press.
(Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 TYE)




The information in this article is valid as at 11 June 2013 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Buildings
Historic buildings

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