Bukit Merah Town Centre

I made a trip down Bukit Merah Central a few months back, to trace down the old HDB Centre. However, the trip turned out to be more fruitful than I expected.

Bukit Merah Town Centre 01
Bukit Merah Town Centre

”Bukit Merah” means red hill in Malay, and is a reference to the red couloured lateritic soil found on the hill. According to the Sejarah Melayu (the Malay Annals), Singapore used to be plaqued by swordfish attacking the people living in the coastal regions. A young boy named Hang Nadim proposed an ingenious solution, to build a wall of banana stems along the coast (at present day Tanjong Pagar– a possible origin for its name?). When the swordfish attacked, their snouts were stuck in the stems. With the swordfish problem solved, Hang Nadim earned great respect from the people, but also jealousy from the rulers. The king, Paduka Seri Maharaja, finally ordered his execution, and it was said that his blood soaked the soil of the hill where he was killed, giving rise to the red-coloured hill.

Bukit Merah Town Centre 02
Bukit Merah Town Centre

The history of Bukit Merah Town Centre dates back to 1955, when 7-storey SIT flats were built. Since then, numerous housing flats and other amenities appeared, including its own bus interchange, swimming complex and theatre.

Bukit Merah Town Centre 06Bukit Merah Town Centre 05
HDB Bukit Merah Branch Office

Currently, the Tanjong Pagar Town Council and HDB Bukit Merah Branch Office are also located here.

Bukit Merah Town Centre 07
Bukit Merah Town Centre 09Bukit Merah Town Centre 10
Link bridges of various deisgns

A distinctive feature in Bukit Merah Town Centre is the presence link bridges of various designs, connecting the various blocks together via the second and third levels.

Bukit Merah Town Centre 08
Empty food centre

At the centre of the town centre is a multi-storey and underground car park. Adjacent to it is a food centre at Blk 163. However, when I was there, most of the stalls were closed.

Bukit Merah Bus Interchange
Constructed: 1982
Status: Found

Bukit Merah Bus Interchange 01
Bukit Merah Bus Interchange
Bukit Merah Bus Interchange 02
Canvas roof overhang

The Bukit Merah Bus Interchange was opened in 1982, and is best identified by its huge canvas roof and overhang along its sides, offering shades to the boarding and alighting bays.

Bukit Merah Central Overhead Bridge 01
Bukit Merah Central Overhead Bridge 02Bukit Merah Central Overhead Bridge 03
Overhead bridge linking the interchange to the town centre

The canvas roof extends over to the overhead bridge across Bukit Merah Central. Without any supporting columns in the middle, the bridge is held upright by its concrete truss system, intentionally articulated on the inside as railings, while hidden from view from outside with perforated steel claddings. These allow the interior of the bridge to be well shaded yet decently ventilated.

TOUCH Community Theatre
Constructed: 1981
Status: Lost
Demolished: 2014

TOUCH Community Theatre 01
TOUCH Community Theatre, previously the Dalit Theatre

This community theatre is operated by TOUCH Community Services, a non-profit Christian organisation. The building began as Dalit Theatre when it first opened in 1981, screening Tamil films. It was renovated in 1998 and subsequently taken over by TOUCH Community Services. It was demolished in 2014 and is currently being rebuilt as Gateway Theatre.

Block 162
Status: Found

Bukit Merah Town Centre 03
Blk 162 Bukit Merah Central

Located at a very visible spot along Jalan Bukit Merah, Block 162 has a distinctive design different from the other blocks. At one end of the block is a group of slightly cantilevered units forming an inverted triangle form that appears to be pointing towards Regal Theatre and the old HDB Centre.

Bukit Merah Town Centre 04 (former A&W)
Brinda’s, where A&W used to be

The block houses various shops and restaurants on its first two levels, but the most famous ex-tenant is perhaps A&W, which occupied the current Brinda’s unit on the ground floor.

Regal Theatre 皇都戏院
Constructed: 1979
Status: Lost
Demolished: 2012

Regal Theatre 01
Regal Theatre 05Regal Theatre 04
Regal Theatre, before demolition

Located between Block 162 and the old HDB Centre, I only remembered this building as the one with a McDonald’s branch on the ground floor. It was only recently when I realised that it used to be known as Regal Theatres, the first neighbourhood cinema under Cathay. The cinema operated from 1979 to the late 1990s, but the McDonald’s continued to operate for another 10 odd years.

Regal Theatre 07
Regal Theatre 06
McDonald’s, located at the ground floor

The rectangular wooden-pattern floor tiles were a distinctive feature of McDonald’s outlets.

Regal Theatre 03Regal Theatre 02
Demolition notices were pasted all around the building

Demolition started in 2012, just a couple of months after my visit. A new building known as “Rubikon” was built on its site. Just like Regal Theatres, the ground floor premise is occupied by McDonald’s.

Old HDB Centre
Status: Found

HDB HQ 02
The long slope in front of the old HDB Centre

Block 169 used to be the HDB Centre, with displays of HDB flats and units models and counters handling various HDB-related transactions. A sloped corridor at the front of the block connects the ground and second floors.

HDB HQ 03
The old HDB Centre

After HDB moved its headquarters to the current HDB Hub at Toa Payoh in 2002, this space was occupied by a FairPrice Homemart outlet (now-defunct outlet concept by FairPrice) and Singapore Turf Club, but neither was able to bring back the crowds that HDB Centre attracted.

HDB HQ 01
Han’s Café was on the left

It is currently Tower 2 of Connection ONE, the headquarters of Surbana Corporation. Han’s Café was still operating on the second storey, at the top of the “slope”. Blocks 167 (Towers 4 & 5) and 168 (Tower 3) have also become part of Connection ONE.

HDB HQ 04
Connection ONE

Bukit Merah Public Library
Constructed: 1982
Status: Found

Bukit Merah Public Library 01
Bukit Merah Public Library

On the western end of the estate stands the Bukit Merah Public Library, which was opened in 1982 and upgraded in 2004 to 2005. It was Singapore’s fourth branch library.

Redhill Close Estates
Constructed: 1955
Status: Losing

Redhill Close 01
Redhill Close SIT flats

Across Jalan Bukit Merah are 21 flats which I believe were the first batch of SIT flats in this area. There were colloquially known as chek lau (七楼; “seven storeys”) as it was common back then for relocated kampung residents to refer to the new high-rise SIT or HDB flats by the number of storeys. On December 2011, HDB announced that these flats had been selected for SERS. Residents will be moved to replacement flats at Henderson.

File Last Updated: October 14, 2015

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4 responses to “Bukit Merah Town Centre

  1. WOW! Nice post, but one mistake. The FairPrice outlet that was in the old HDB Centre was FairPrice Homemart which is NTUC’s first but defunct hypermart concept. NTUC had never opened an FairPrice Xtra outlet in Bukit Merah.

  2. The Touch Community Theater will start rebuilding this year and complete by 3Q 2015. http://www.fcbc.org.sg/tctrebuilding/

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