7 April 2011

Take flight and explore!

"Fly aeroplane"

That would mean to be 'left in the lurch' or being 'abandoned', colloquially used in Singapore. And no, I
wouldn't allow my Old Kallang Airport article to be left in the drafts forgotten. Nor was this old airport been left in the lurch too long, as it is now part of an art openhouse. Following our heritage advisor, Jerome who has written not one but two entries visiting the old airport.

So there I was, meeting Jerome and Chris on two different occasions to visit this year's special location for the Singapore Biennale Openhouse 2011. Singapore's first pre-war civil airport, Old Kallang Airport. An old dame who had beared witness to Singapore's long aviation history (to find out more, go visit the Singapore Philatelic Museum, on currently till 30th September - Singapore takes flight: A hundred years).

For a brief history read up, I would recommend URA's write up,

"Located at 9 Stadium Link and fronting the Nicoll Highway today, the former Kallang Airport is sited on reclaimed land of what was once the swampy Kallang Basin. The landing strip was a large circular field in front of the Terminal Building. The boundary of the Airport once extended into what is now Old Airport Road. The surrounding land and the runways were redeveloped in the 1950s when the airport facilities were relocated to Paya Lebar Airport.

The former Kallang Airport was built by the British Colonial government in the 1930s as Singapore’s first commercial international airport building, and served the city-state from 1937-1955."

A little trivia,
"Do you know Amelie, then a 40-year-old American aviation pioneer and her navigator Mr Fred Noonan were here at the Kallang Airport? They took off at 6:15am heading for Bandung, Indonesia in her plane named “Electra”, to continue their 1937 Round The World Flight."

In my vague memories of Kallang in the 80s-90s, includes the Singapore National Stadium (to watch the Malaysia Cup games!!), the Octagon (where a former disco was, which I had no memory of except being at the main entrance).

Other events I could hardly recall were the National Day Parade drills done on bare tarmac under the blazing afternoon sun which singe the plastic school badges buttoned on our sleeves (I was in the National Police Cadet Corps, NPCC). I wouldn't dare confirm that I was indeed at Kallang airport for the drills until I had reaffirmation that the above did happen there. Surprised to find out Char from Second Shot was a fellow parade participant who had been through the same thing! Those were the days when People's Association was still occupying the grounds as it's base.

Having missed the previous Biennale Openhouses, where they have a unique heritage location or a place of interest (where it's not accessible by the general public) to house unique art pieces. Hence, for this year's special location, I made sure every nook and corner was explored and documented in best possible manner.

Boundary of Kallang Airport

Immigration checkpoint in the terminal, 1948

Hangar B, Singapore Air Day exhibition, 1950

The massive airfield from the past has been shrunk through the ages, although it still retains it's four main buildings - the Terminal building with the control tower, the East block, the West block and the Hangar. Most of it's vast airfield was taken up for other uses for residential, the National Stadium (demolished), roads and expressways(formerly runways, Dakota Crescent, Dakota Close, Old Airport Road, etc).

Test yourself: " Do you know how the road, Dakota Crescent, got it's name? "

It was pouring, so I took a stroll down Mountbatten Road to the round-a-bout. I believe the Gay World Indoor Stadium (as blogged by LKK) was just opposite this small building, across the road (was once there to watch a basketball game in the 90s). Now it's just a vast empty field.

There were still traces of P.A (People's Association).

Large billboard near the old airport gates, along Geylang Road.

Old gate with the lion's crest and missing letters "Singapore Airport", inset is old photo of the same gate (NHB).

The gates come with their own lights, and Jerome said it was beautiful when the lights and old street lamps were lit up during the Biennale's opening launch in the evening.

Another trace of the former tenant.

Fiercely guarded. After PA, before Biennale. Probably after Biennale as well.

East & West Blocks
"The East and West Blocks, originally built to house the airline offices, are designed simply and built in reinforced concrete. They are similar in appearance to other military buildings found within British military camps, with the regular repetitive columns and windows. Their contrasting heaviness balances the lightness of the former Terminal Building, and can be seen as anchors on either side of the site." - URA

Once past the gates, the East and West Blocks will be greeting you.

There are more than 25 artists's works here on display at the former Kallang Airport, so i will be putting up some photos according to the areas I have explored. To have the exact name and artwork description, best source of reference.

Students get to be involved with hands-on art opportunities here.

Art works of students from many different schools line the walls.

Little Godzilla with intricate innerworks.

The Terminal
"The former Terminal Building of Kallang Airport is an iconic and visually stunning building. The Modernist language of the former Terminal Building can be interpreted as a metaphor of a contemporary airplane, with its elevated cylindrical glass control tower centrally placed as the cockpit. This made reference to the concepts of progress, speed and machinery.

The design of the building is accredited to Frank Dorrington Ward, the Chief Architect of the former Public Works Department. The building clearly displayed the new Modern architectural language of functionalism, with exposed concrete, horizontal lines, transparent glazed walls, and streamlined curves. The common characteristics of the International Style are easy to identify in the building: a radical simplification of form, a rejection of ornament, adoption of glass, steel and concrete as preferred materials, the transparency and ‘lightness’ of the building, and a clear reading of the function of the different spaces." - URA

View of the Terminal building from the gates.

Facing of what used to be the vast airfield and the sea.

One would have to exit the few doors on this side of the building and walk out to the airfield to board their planes.

These doors in their heydays would have seen thousands of travellers passing through.

The artwork which is now currently exhibited in the main lobby.

Lobby of yesteryears, 1954.

I simply loved the bold and exciting pre-war variant of art deco design - Streamline Moderne

Action-packed windows!

The lion at the main door of the Terminal.

On the 2nd floor, where probably the customs counters would have been.

Stairs in the building were interesting as well.

Spiral stairs that leads to the viewing decks.

This artist's unique window pane design could catch on. I found the design on the panes and doors rather pleasing to the eye.

Interesting motif found on the floor.

Traces of former installations of counters or wooden walls?

Nice vintage set up? Smells authentic too.

Viewing platform, earlier version of today's airport viewing gallery?

Terminal building in 1950

Going beyond, as long as it doesn't cause anyone harm.

This spiral stairs is almost a replica of the ones I have seen in supreme court, very sturdy.

Former control tower of the Terminal building.

Control tower in 1939, notice the spiral stairs in the background?

The Hangar

One of my favourites of the heritage conserved sections of the Kallang Airport grounds. Hangar B is spacious without columns, supported instead by girders across the roof of the lofty structure. Material used are likely to be 'Chromador steel' from Dorman Long & Co, Middlesbrough, England. A new improved steel with higher tensile strength, which is probably the same material used in building the East and West blocks as well as certain parts of Singapore's former Supreme Court.

The hangar and it's surrounding smaller hangars were once used by Kallang Auto Centre in 1992, to house used cars and at least 70 used car dealers. Last known big event was the launch of Mitsubishi's EVO 9 car in 2005, with Jackie Chan making a guest appearance to launch his own edition of the sports car. The hangars were likely vacated in recent years, but i was surprised to see a ToastBox outlet just outside the entrance of Hangar B. Perhaps only for the duration of the Biennale openhouse.

Would you like some milk tea and butter bread to go with your exploration, sir?

The hangars are a good spot for those who are keen on trying their hand on 'urbex photography' (urban exploration photography) or just shots to capture the gritty industrial characteristics of the weathered structures.

The only exhibit in Hangar B, the Barnhouse

If you still remember your physics or D&T lessons in secondary school, no prizes for guessing why there were no columns used in Hangar B.

Which angle to catch the better light, given it's cloudy, harsh sunlight out there.

Rest area not for cars

To maintainence.


Exploring the other buildings and other curiosities

There are other buildings besides the main attraction, and being typical like any other seasoned urban explorer - we can't ignore an abandoned spot for documentation. Even though there's freedom and ease to roam around here for photography, there's simply no reason be a sideshow to capitalize on the absence of zealous security guards and so on.

Discretion, common sense and safety first will always be top order for the day in Singapore for all our explorations, anywhere.

Students visiting

Jerome wanders around exploring the surroundings.

Comes in a set.

Orange and white. And red.

Thankful for reflections after the downpour.

Autumn-like. But the humid weather rots the leaves fast, the smell is strong.

Always had a thing for peeling paint off an old or abandoned places.

Lonely corridors.

Something that you don't usually see elsewhere.

East Block in the background.

Plenty of whimsical notes left by the student volunteers who are 'guarding' the openhouse sites
are artwork actually done by Nedko Solakov and Liao Jie Kai, titled "The Flying Method of an Artist with a Fear of Flying". View the full range at Steel Wool's photo album!

Ominous looking clouds receding, this was after the heavy downpour.

Angles and lines of the hangar roofs.

Distinct art deco design, do correct me if I'm wrong on this.

Hidden corners at the former coffeeshop.

Kallang's own little lost world.

Beauty in urban decay.

I do have other photos, but to put them all here would be an overkill. They can be viewed here in my album. Last but not least, kudos to the Singapore Biennale for unearthing gem locations and opening them to the general public.

We appreciate such kindness deeply, for it's a great opportunity for like-minded folks like us (no matter urban explorers, heritage buffs or architecture lovers) to document such for posterity. It's good for the future generation to know and remember the past.

Other related links/references
URA's article on old Kallang Airport
Wikipedia on old Kallang Airport
Tanglin camp in Singapore Biennale 2006
People's Defence Force Camp in Singapore Biennale 2008
Singapore Biennale 2011
(the years 2007, 2009, 2010 seemed to have been skipped)
Singapore Philatelic Museum - Singapore takes flight: A hundred years
Jerome's Reflections on old Kallang Airport
Jerome's Taking flight from old kallang airport
Char's visit to the old Kallang Airport for Biennale 2011
Jeffery&Flora, Flora's visit to old Kallang Airport
Notabilia's visit to old Kallang Airport, and she loves art deco
Geng Hui's coverage of old Kallang Airport

Article & Photos copyright of Andrew Him

© One° North Explorers

Forgotten places, secret spots, lost historical sites or having some interesting info to share? Is there a location/venue you want the One-North Explorers to feature?

Contact us!

sgurbex @ gmail . com





© 2002-2018 One-North Explorers
© The One° North Explorers [Registration No: 53180929C]


  1. An extensive, in-depth and intriguing coverage, history and photographs of Old Kallang Airport! Looking at your post and pics, I still have many places inside Old Kallang Airport that I have not captured them down! Must go again soon!

    How did u manage to get up the spiral staircase & into the former control tower? I would like to get in too! An awesome bird's eye view!

    Hope to get the chance someday to meet and chat :D


  2. Hello there JH,

    I guess there's still time for you to do a revisit? For the smaller buildings, just do be cautious (eg. animals, insects), no harm to avoid if in doubt. :)

    As for the control tower, I guess it's just a matter of opportunity and timing. :)

  3. sorry, just a correction. the whimsical notes are not from left by the student volunteers. It is part of the artwork done by Liao Jie kai c/o Nedko Solakov.

  4. Thanks Anon! Amended and updated with relevant links! :D

  5. Great write up and photos.

    Sad to see that the gates were not maintained.