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CREDIT: Ruth Morris ARPS

End of an Era

Ruth Morris ARPS photographs the abandoned Dakota HDB in Singapore


Taking photographs in the blinding midday sun is tricky but I think it added a bleak, stark, worn out effect to some of the images.


1. Tell us about the project:


I live in a modern apartment block on Dakota Crescent, right next to the empty HDB’s (Housing Development Block) pictured in this project. I knew that the buildings were likely to be demolished soon so I had a time constraint & I felt that photographing the buildings was an important project to pursue. I took the images over a period of two weeks, as the HDB was right on my door step it was a convenient project as well as thought provoking.

Construction of Dakota HDB was started in 1956, it was one of the first housing estates to be built in Singapore. The low-rise, social housing blocks were built to house the victims of what had become dangerous, squalid & very poor housing in the surrounding Kampongs. Fires in 1958 and 1959 in nearby villages left many people homeless and with bubonic plague sweeping through the old insanitary housing, something had to be done.


2. What did you learn while doing the project:


Taking photographs in the blinding midday sun is tricky but I think it added a bleak, stark, worn out effect to some of the images, which I felt was in keeping with the project title. The buildings were originally red brick, but were continually being white washed to weather proof them. Built on the site of the old Kallang airport, the name, 'Dakota Crescent’, commemorates the loss of an entire crew of airman lost in a crash in 1946.

Residents personalised balconies & painted doors in bright colours to help them spot where they lived. Previously residents had lived at street level so they had to learn about high rise living.


3. Any tips or lessons you can share:


If you can talk to residents about life in the buildings you are photographing it really helps when trying to recreate the atmosphere & portray the importance of dwellings. The last tenants of Dakota Crescent HDB moved out in 2016, residents that I spoke to who once lived there all have fond memories, particularly of the space, communal areas, the relatively big balconies and being by the river. Some ex residents were still visiting their old ground floor balconies right up until the buildings were boarded up a few months ago.


4. Is the project complete and how do you feel about the result:


The project is complete. The site is now completely boarded up, the trees have been cleared & the derelict buildings are being demolished as this is published. There is no access to the site now. Campaigns dedicated to saving Dakota Crescent HDB unfortunately fell on deaf ears. Developers will shortly be moving in and unique architectural styles are about to be lost for ever.


5. What next?


I am always in search of social history that I can capture visually. Currently, with travel restrictions, I will be looking in Singapore for a similar project to this one.