Hougang is an area located in the northeastern part of Singapore, bounded by Punggol in the north, Upper Serangoon Road in the south, Sungei Serangoon in the east and Yio Chu Kang in the west.1 As at 2015, the Hougang New Town is Singapore’s largest public housing estate based on land area, consisting of over 51,000 housing units.
“Hougang” is the romanised Mandarin name for “Au Kang”, a Fujian and Chaozhou term meaning “the end of the river”. The name refers to an area stretching from the fifth-milestone junction of Yio Chu Kang and Upper Serangoon roads to the seventh milestone junction where Upper Serangoon Road meets Tampines Road.2 This area was once mainly forested land with some pig farms and was largely populated by Chinese Teochew residents.3 One residential area was Tua Jia Ka (meaning “foot of the big well” in Teochew) Village, whose name referred to a prominent well in the area.4 The village was also known as Somapah Serangoon Village, which used to be a popular destination for street food, wayang (Chinese opera) performances and encountering Chinese medicine men and storytellers.5 At the end of Upper Serangoon Road once stood the Kangkar fish market, which was originally set up by Catholic missions in the early 20th century. This market moved to Punggol in 1983 when the land it occupied was acquired to build part of Hougang New Town.6
In 1979, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) announced plans to build a 460-hectare new town in the Hougang area to house 120,000 people.7 The new town was originally known as Hou Kang, but the HDB renamed it Hougang the following year in support of the government’s Speak Mandarin Campaign.8
Residents of Hougang were one of the first in Singapore to benefit from a revised precinct concept designed by the HDB to give residents more opportunities for greater interaction. A main feature of the revised concept involved clustering the town’s shops around a focal point instead of scattering them across the estate.9 Development of the new town began with the building of some 12,000 housing units at the southern portion of Upper Serangoon Road and along stretches of Upper Paya Lebar Road. Hougang New Town spanned three neighbourhoods: one with 2,000 homes surrounding a town centre, another that extended to the existing Punggol estate, and a third that comprised maisonettes designed to blend in with private developments at neighbouring Charlton Park estate.10 The two-storey, five-room maisonettes in Hougang were the first of its kind to be built by the HDB.11
As part of the HDB’s drive to give each new town in Singapore a unique character, Hougang’s public housing units were designed to have more shapely curves than those in other estates. For instance, two blocks of flats along Hougang Avenue 2 were designed with rounded balconies and railings, while the town’s swimming complex at Hougang Avenue 10 had rounded columns.12 In addition, a block of HUDC mansionettes at Hougang Avenue 2 was designed with Spanish-style architectural features such as an arched balcony and semicircular doorway in the courtyard.13 Another distinguishing feature of Hougang New Town was a rainbow mural splashed across the facade of a 10-storey block of three-room flats.14
In 1984, HDB stopped producing maisonettes because of the higher construction cost compared with five-room flats sold for the same price. The last batch of maisonettes sold was located in Hougang.15 Four years later, the town saw the introduction of elder-friendly flats that offered extra room for owners to accommodate their parents as well as blocks with lifts that stopped on every floor.16 By 1995, Hougang had become the most popular estate among HDB applicants. In response to the huge public demand, the government announced plans to build some 19,000 new flats in the area. Spread across 200 ha of vacant state land, this new housing project was expected to raise the total stock of homes in Hougang New Town from 46,650 to 66,000.17
In 2007, the HDB selected nine public housing blocks and a hawker centre in Hougang avenues 3 and 7 respectively for demolition in order to “facilitate better land use” and “rejuvenate older estates”. Land would be freed up for private developments.18
As at 2015, Hougang has 51,646 flats housing some 179,800 residents. It is the largest HDB new town based on land area.19
Hougang’s original town centre was designed in a colonial-themed architectural style reminiscent of prewar bungalows and country cottages.20 In 1984, a McDonald’s outlet opened in the town centre, making Hougang the first public housing estate in Singapore to have a fast-food restaurant.21 The town was also the first estate to have a bowling centre. Opened in 1986 at Hougang Avenue 1, the S$4-million Striker’s Bowl boasted a 26-lane gallery and state-of-the-art automatic scoring system.22 In 1983, the HDB completed what was then its largest supermarket-emporium. Located a short distance away from the town centre at Block 205, Hougang Street 21, it covered an area of 7,056 sq m.23 In 1998, the town centre was revamped and renamed Kovan City.24
In 1987, another town centre was built in the area. Situated at Hougang Central, its landmark feature was a pair of blocks with stepped, pitched roofs – a reference to the area’s rural past.25 In 1993, this new town centre became home to Hougang Plaza, the first all-entertainment complex to open in an HDB estate. Located at the junction of Hougang Avenue 10 and Upper Serangoon Road, the three-storey complex housed a bowling alley, billiard hall and a four-theatre Eng Wah cineplex.26 The cineplex closed down in 2000 due to declining ticket sales and was replaced by a one-stop furnishing centre.27 In 2013, Hougang Plaza was torn down to make way for a residential and retail development known as The MidTown.28 In 1997, the town centre saw the opening of the S$120-million Hougang Mall – the first shopping mall opened by the National Trades Union Congress.29 The mall was sold in 2004 to the Asian Retail Mall Fund for S$188 million.30 Inside the mall is Cheng San Public Library (formerly known as Cheng San Community Library), which opened in 1997 as the first library to acquire and display the works of local artists.31
The Hougang Bus Interchange opened in 1983 at Hougang Street 21.32 Two decades later, the bus interchange was relocated to a site next to the Hougang MRT station instead. As the old interchange was no longer operational, the space was turned into a community hall and a parking lot for shoppers.33 In 2005, it also became an interchange for coaches to Malaysia and Thailand, and was renamed Kovan Hub.34
The Hougang and Kovan MRT stations were opened in 2003 as part of the North-East Line to better serve the public transportation needs of the new town.35
Hougang Single Member Constituency (SMC)
Hougang SMC was created for the 1988 general election by carving out parts of Punggol SMC.36 It was bounded by Hougang Avenue 7 in the east, Lim Ah Pin Road in the west, Tampines Road in the south and Hougang Avenue 10 in the north.37 After the 1991 general election, Cheng San Group Representation Constituency (GRC) absorbed the remaining parts of Hougang that fell under Punggol SMC.38 A new ward, the Paya Lebar Constituency, was also added to Aljunied GRC.39 For the 2001 general election, the parts of Hougang that fell under Cheng San GRC were absorbed into the Aljunied and Ang Mo Kio GRCs.40
The Hougang constituency’s member of Parliament (MP) was the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) Tang Guan Seng from 1988 until 1991, when he was defeated in the general election by Low Thia Khiang of the Workers’ Party (WP). In the 2011 election, Low left the seat he had successfully defended over two decades to contest the neighbouring Aljunied GRC. The WP’s Yaw Shin Leong successfully won the Hougang seat.41 In less than a year, however, Yaw was sacked from the WP over his silence in an alleged extramarital affair, resulting in a by-election. WP candidate Png Eng Huat successfully won the seat, and did so again in the 2015 election.42
The Hougang Town Council was formed in 1991 to take over from the HDB the management and maintenance of public housing estates in the Hougang, Paya Lebar and Punggol wards.43 Hougang MP Tang was the town council’s first chairman.44 After the 1991 election, the areas in Paya Lebar and Punggol that had been managed by the Hougang Town Council were turned over to the Aljunied and Cheng San town councils respectively.45 The WP’s win in Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC in 2011 led the party to merge the Hougang and Aljunied town councils to form the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC).46 Lee Li Lian of the WP won the 2013 by-election in Punggol East SMC47 following the resignation of its former MP Michael Palmer of the People’s Action Party over an extramarital affair.48 AHTC was thereafter expanded to form the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council.49 The loss of Punggol East SMC in the 2015 election led WP to reconstitute the town council looking after Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC as AHTC.50
Tua Jia Ka
This fountain-shaped well situated next to Block 203 at Hougang Street 21 was created in 1998 to commemorate an actual well that used to stand near Block 205. That well served as a meeting point for the residents of the Tua Jia Ka village.51
Colour mural on Block 25
Hougang Town Council created this landmark for the estate in 1993 by painting a yellow sun, blue sky, green trees and red birds on the facade of a 14-storey block along Hougang Avenue 3.52
Opened in 1994, Punggol Park is a 16-hectare town garden with a fishing pond as its centrepiece. Bounded by Hougang Avenue 8, Avenue 10 and Sungei Piang, it is the first town garden to be designed and developed by the Parks and Recreation Department (today’s National Parks Board) after the organisation took over this responsibility from the HDB in 1989.53
Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
This Catholic church opened in 1853 along Upper Serangoon Road to cater to Teochew farmers living in Serangoon and Punggol. The present church building was built in 1901 and was gazetted as a national monument in 2005.54
Tou Mu Kung temple
This Taoist temple began as a worship site in Hougang for the Nine Emperor Gods (Jiu Huang Ye) in 1902.55 The construction of a permanent temple was completed in 1921 and this was gazetted as a national monument in 2005.56
Chee Tong temple
Situated along Hougang Avenue 3, this Taoist and Buddhist temple was completed in 1987. To attract young people, architects Patrick Chia and Tay Kheng Soon broke away from the architectural style of traditional Chinese temples to create this modern building topped with a prism-type roof.57
Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
Founded in 1941 to serve the Catholic population in the district of Paya Lebar, the church was built at its present location at Highland Road in 1953. To accommodate the burgeoning Catholic populations of Serangoon and Hougang, the church was rebuilt in 1999 and reopened in 2002.58
St Paul’s Church
This Anglican church near the junction of Hougang Street 21 and Upper Serangoon Road first started in the area as a house church in the 1930s. A permanent church building was completed at the present site in 1936. A parish hall was added in 1982, and a church extension followed in 1994.59
Masjid Haji Yusoff
Located along Hillside Drive off Upper Serangoon Road, this mosque was first built in 1921. In 1994, the original structure was demolished to make way for a new mosque building.60
Japanese Cemetery Park
Futaki Tagajiro, a Japanese owner of brothels and rubber plantations, established this cemetery in 1891 for the burial of the many Japanese prostitutes then working in Singapore.61 Located at Chuan Hoe Avenue off Yio Chu Kang Road, it was closed to further burials in 1973.62
Xinmin Primary and Secondary Schools
This pair of schools along Hougang Avenue 8 first started in 1945 as a Chinese-stream primary school known as Sin Ming High School. From just three rented old bungalows along Upper Serangoon Road, the school expanded over the years to include secondary and pre-university sections. In 1987, the primary school moved to a new site at Hougang Avenue 8. Three years later, the secondary school also relocated there and both took on the hanyu pinyin version of their name, Xinmin.63
Xinghua Primary School
This primary school was founded in 1930 on Lim Tua Tow Road in the Upper Serangoon area as Sing Hua Public School. In 1985, the school moved to its present location in Hougang Avenue 1 and had its name changed to the hanyu pinyin version.64
Yuying Secondary School
This was the first secondary school to be completed in Hougang New Town.65 The school was originally known as the Yock Eng High School when it was founded by the Hainanese community in 1910 on Prinsep Street. In 1985, the school moved into new premises at Hougang Avenue 1 and was renamed Yuying Secondary School when it officially opened in 1987.66
Serangoon Junior College
This junior college was Singapore’s 14th such institution.67 It was founded in 1988 and opened at temporary premises along Hougang Avenue 8.68 In December 1990, the college moved into a new campus along Upper Serangoon Road and was officially declared open on 29 May 1992.69
Holy Innocents’ High School
This school opened in 1892 as one of the first Chinese mission schools in Singapore and was originally known as Tao Nan School. It was renamed Holy Innocents’ Chinese Boys School in 1920 and moved to its current location along Upper Serangoon Road in 1957. A year later, the school was renamed Holy Innocents’ High School.70
Holy Innocents’ Primary School
Originally part of Holy Innocents’ Chinese Boys School, the primary section of this school moved into its own premises at Lorong Low Koon in 1985.71
Paya Lebar Methodist Girls’ School
The school was originally known as the Paya Lebar English School when it was established in 1916 on a piece of land along Boundary Road. It began as an all-boys school and a branch of the Anglo-Chinese School. In 1961, it became a school solely for girls. In 1986, the school moved to its present location at 296 Lorong Ah Soo, and thereafter saw the separation of its primary and secondary sections.72
Montfort Junior School and Secondary School
Started in 1916 on Upper Serangoon Road as the Holy Innocents’ English School, the school was renamed Montfort School in 1959.73 The school was split into Montfort Junior School and Montfort Secondary School in 1974. In the 1980s, when it was proposed that the Montfort schools move to areas such Jurong, the Montfort old-boys’ association fought to keep the school in the Upper Serangoon-Punggol area as the alumni felt that it was “important that Montfort remains where its roots are”.74 A site at Hougang Avenue 8, the schools’ present location, was found and the schools moved into their new premises in 1992.75
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33. New buzz at former interchange. (2004, May 17). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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47. Au Yong, J. (2013, January 26). Workers’ Party wins Punggol East by-election with 54.52% of valid votes. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
48. Speaker of Parliament Michael Palmer resigns over ‘grave mistake’. (2012, December 12). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.
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56. 徐李颖 [Xu, L. Y.]. (2006). 《九皇圣迹: 后港斗母宫》 [Sacred site of the Nine Emperor Gods: The Hougang Dou Mu Temple]. 新加坡: 后港斗母宫, p. 38. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 203.5095957 XLY)
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59. St Paul’s Church. (2014). Our history. Retrieved 2016, July 11 from St Paul’s Church website: http://www.stpaulschurch.org.sg/st-pauls-church/our-history
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65. Hougang’s new school completed. (1985, May 6). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
66. Yuying Secondary School. (2015). School history. Retrieved 2016, July 12 from Yuying Secondary School’s website: https://yuyingsec.moe.edu.sg/index.php/about-us/our-history
67. Number of JCs may level off, suggests Dr Tay. (1989, May 14). The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
68. Newest college needs room to grow. (1989, November 19). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
69. Serangoon Junior College. (2015). Our heritage. Retrieved 2016, July 23 from Serangoon Junior College website: http://www.srjc.moe.edu.sg/sr-at-a-glance/our-heritage
70. Holy Innocents’ High School. (1983). Holy Innocents’ High School official opening of new hall cum 91st anniversary souvenir magazine 1983. Singapore: Holy Innocent’s High School, p. 24. (Call no.: RCLOS q373.5957 HOL)
71. Holy Innocents’ High School. (2014). Our history. Retrieved 2016, July 12 from Holy Innocents’ High School’s website: http://www.holyinnocentshigh.moe.edu.sg/our-hihs/our-history/
72. Paya Lebar Methodist Girls’ School (Secondary). (2014). Our heritage. Retrieved 2016, July 15 from Paya Lebar Methodist Girls’ School (Secondary) website: http://www.plmgss.moe.edu.sg/Articles.aspx?option=com_content&view=article&id=72&Itemid=99
73. Hwang, T. F. (1970, December 1). T.F. Hwang takes you down memory lane. The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
74. Why new Montfort schools are in Hougang: Boon Heng. (1993, June 13). The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
75. Montfort Secondary School. (n.d.). Our history. Retrieved 2016, August 3 from Montfort Secondary School website: http://www.montfortsec.moe.edu.sg/about_us/history.html; Montfort Junior School. (n.d.). Our history. Retrieved 2016, August 3 from Montfort Junior School website: http://www.montfortjunior.moe.edu.sg/about-us/our-history
The information in this article is valid as at 2 August 2016 and correct as far as we are able to 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.