Located in the central region, the Bukit Merah planning area comprises 17 sub-zones. It is bounded by Alexandra Road to the west, Jervois Lane, Prince Charles Square and Alexandra Canal to the north, and Kim Seng and Outram roads to the east. The area spans approximately 1,413 ha.1
The name Bukit Merah came about after red soil was uncovered when the area was excavated in the 1950s. In Malay, Bukit Merah means “red hill”. In Hokkien, the area is known as ang suah, which also means “red hill”.2
The earliest record of Bukit Merah can be found from the survey map of Singapore island by John Turnbull Thomson. Plan of Singapore Town and Adjoining Districts, which were maps published in 1844 and 1846 (two editions), presented Bukit Merah as a forest located on the outskirts of Singapore Town. In addition, the 1943 map of Syonanto revealed at least seven hills in the Bukit Merah area sprawling the Telok Blangah sub-district.3
During the 19th century, plots of land in Bukit Merah were purchased by Seah Eu Chin, the “Gambier King”, to cultivate gambier. It is conjectured that gambier and pepper plantations could be found in Bukit Merah and its surrounding areas from 1850s to 1880s. As the processing of gambier had depleted the trees for firewood, Bukit Merah lost its agricultural value after the 1880s and became a piece of land with numerous hills, lowlands and swamps.4
The present site of the Bukit Merah Town Centre and bus interchange was once known as Beehoon Plain, as early Hokkien immigrants used to dry beehoon (Chinese rice noodles) they made in that area back in the 1920s. The site became a rubbish plain subsequently as it was used as a dumping ground. It was then nicknamed poon saw pore, which translates to “rubbish hill” in Hokkien. In addition, Bukit Merah has a history of brickworks. War hero Lim Bo Seng’s father used to own a brick factory in that area in the 1920s.5
Villages dotted with attap huts were common before the construction of 21 blocks of seven-storey government flats in 1955.6 By the 1960s, one- to three-room high-rise public housing sprouted quickly to house a growing population.7
Singapore Glass Manufacturers at Henderson was a prominent landmark, before the development of Henderson Industrial Estate.8 So was Jardine Steps, before the development of Maritime Square.9 Today, Bukit Merah’s many prominent landmarks include Mount Faber – highest point along the southern coast of Singapore – and the Mount Faber Park,10 Telok Blangah Hill on which stands Alkaff Mansion,11 Labrador Park,12 the Singapore General Hospital,13 HarbourFront Centre (former World Trade Centre),14 VivoCity,15 as well as the Tiong Bahru and Redhill Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) stations.16 At the waterfront stands Keppel Harbour,17 while the former BP refinery had made way for a maritime commercial hub and a waterfront residence.18
The Tang Suahn Kiong San Soh Hoo Chu Temple used to stand along Henderson Road. It was Singapore’s second oldest Chinese temple until it was demolished on 5 September 1978 to make way for redevelopment.19
Along Jalan Bukit Merah stands the Silat Road Sikh Temple. It has the largest palki or “palanquin”, the Sikh Holy Book, weighing 10 tonnes and measuring 3 m long, 1.5 m wide and 4 m high. The dome, with a diameter of 10 m, is the world’s largest for Sikh temples. Originally built in 1924, the temple draws devotees from around the world.20
Recent and future developments
New developments in Bukit Merah include a retail mall (Alexandra Central Mall) and hotel (Park Hotel Alexandra) completed in 2016, Outram Medical Campus in July 2013, the 12-storey National Heart Centre completed in 2014, as well as parks located at Ganges Avenue, Kim Tian Road and Keppel Island. In the near future, the Outram Park MRT station will serve as an interchange to connect the Thomson Line to the East-West and North-East lines.21 As part of the government’s move to promote a car-lite Singapore, more inter-town cycling routes will be built to allow cyclists to travel from the east of the island to the west by cycling from Geylang and Marine Parade to Queenstown and Bukit Merah.22
1. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Bukit Merah Planning Area: Planning Report 1993 (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1993), 4, 6. (Call no. RSING 711.4095957 SIN)
2. Bukit Merah: From a Hilly Kampong to a Modern Town (Singapore: Federal Publications, 1996), 6 (Call no. RSING 959.57 BUK-[HIS]); Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 54. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
3. Bukit Merah, 7; National Library Board Singapore, Visualising Space: Maps of Singapore and the Region: Collections from the National Library and National Archives of Singapore (Singapore: National Library Board, 2015), 93–94. (Call no. RSING 911.5957 SIN)
4. Bukit Merah, 7.
5. Leong Weng Kam, “Old and Modern-Day Exhibits on Bukit Merah Go On Display,” Straits Times, 28 April 1995, 36 (From NewspaperSG); Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 54–55.
6. Leong, “Old and Modern-Day Exhibits on Bukit Merah Go On Display.”
7. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Bukit Merah Planning Area, 38; Mathew Yap, “Better, Bigger and More Beautiful,” Straits Times, 6 July 1984, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “$2 Million Glassware Company for S’pore,” Straits Times, 23 February 1947, 7; “Henderson Will Be among the Largest Private Industrial Estates,” Singapore Monitor, 3 July 1983, 35. (From NewspaperSG)
9. “Largest Centre,” New Nation, 16 June 1977, 4; “Centre to Boost Trade in Sea,” New Nation, 31 July 1975, 23. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Bukit Merah Planning Area, 6; “Mount Faber Park,” Singapore Tourism Board, accessed 21 August 2016.
11. “Alkaff Mansion, the Beauty on a Hill,” Straits Times, 22 November 2015, 17; Asyraf Kamil and Louisa Tang, “Lease Extended, but Fate of Alkaff Mansion Restaurant Still Uncertain,” Today, 4 March 2016, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
12. “Labrado Nature,” National Parks Board, 21 August 2016; Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Bukit Merah Planning Area, 9.
13. “Hospital Overview,” Singapore General Hospital, accessed 21 August 2016; Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Bukit Merah Planning Area, 9.
14. “Heavy Booking for the World Trade Centre,” Straits Times, 16 August 1978, 22. (From NewspaperSG); “About HarbourFront Centre,” HabourFront Centre, accessed 21 August 2016.
15. “About Us,” VivoCity, accessed 22 August 2016.
16. “Open House at Six MRT Stations,” Business Times, 5 February 1988, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Bukit Merah Planning Area, 8.
18. “Protected Oil Areas,” Straits Times, 24 February 1974, 13; Ann Williams “Bukit Merah Set to Become a High-Class Area,” Straits Times, 7 January 1994, 8 (From NewspaperSG); Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Bukit Merah Planning Area, 18; Wang Xin Min, “Waterfront Housing Bridges Singapore’s Past and Present,” Business Times, 3 August 2012, 20. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Lee Kim Chew, “Temple Devotees Have to Move Out in Nine Days,” Straits Times, 27 August 1978, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Rav Dhaliwal “Temple Restoration Scores Some Firsts,” Straits Times, 10 October 1995, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
21. “Master Plan: Central Region,” Urban Redevelopment Authority Singapore, accessed 23 August 2016; Claire Huang, “SGH Campus to Get Makeover Under 20-Year Masterplan,” Business Times, 6 February 2016, 4. (From NewspaperSG); “Bukit Merah Master Plan,” Urban Redevelopment Authority Singapore, accessed 23 August 2016.
22. “More Walking and Cycling Connections for a Car-Lite Singapore,” Urban Redevelopment Authority Singapore, media release, 9 July 2016.
The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive and complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.