Kallang & the Singapore Sports Hub

National Stadium 05
The new Singapore Sports Hub

The recently opened Sports Hub is a complex that houses both new and existing facilities, and is not only a venue for sports, but for other activities as well, such as concerts, dining and shopping. Many people remember the Grand Old Dame that used to stand here, before being demolished in 2010, but the history of this site goes way beyond that.

National Stadium 02
The seats in the new National Stadium in our national colours

Kallang was named after the aboriginals living along Kallang River, known as orang biduanda kallang. They were moved to the Pulai River in Johore in 1824 under the orders of the Temenggong, and by 1848 the orang kallang were virtually extinct due to a smallbox epidermic. The word “Kallang” might be derived from the Malay word kilang (“mill” or “factory”), referring to the saw mills and rice mills in the area. It could also be derived from galang (“to put a boat on wooden stocks or rollers” in Malay).

National Stadium 03
Running tracks around the stadium

Kallang Airport
Designed by Frank Dorrington Ward of Public Works Department (Terminal Building)
Constructed: 1937
Status: Found
Conserved: Since 2008

Former Kallang Airport Terminal Building 01
The terminal building, which was also the People’s Association headquarters

Kallang Airport was the first purpose-built civil airport in Singapore, and was at that time the “finest airport in the British Empire”. Once a mangrove swamp in the Kallang Basin area, it was reclaimed from 1931 to 1936 to create the circular landing ground that is still visible today. Meanwhile, the local community was displaced by the government to an area later known as Kampung Melayu. The circular grass landing ground allowed planes to land from all directions.

Former Kallang Airport 01
Former Kallang Airport

During the Japanese invasion in WWII, Kallang Airport was the only functional airport as all other airfields were located in the north and were within range of Japanese artillery in Johore Bahru. After the Japanese conquered Singapore, they converted the grass landing ground into a concrete runway. The runway was subsequently extended beyond Mountbatten Road after to the introduction of British Overseas Airways Corporation Comet planes in 1951. Traffic signals had to be installed to stop vehicular traffic whenever a plane took off or landed. The runway and the extension would eventually be known as Stadium Boulevard and Old Airport Road respectively.

Singapore Sports Hub 01
The pedestrianised section of Stadium Boulevard

Due to growing air traffic, Kallang Airport was no longer able to accommodate the increasing number of flights and passengers. Expansion was also not possible due to the residential areas nearby. Eventually, a new and larger airport was opened in 1955 at Paya Lebar, and Kallang Airport ceased operations the same year.

Former Kallang Airport 02
Former Kallang Airport

Only a few of the airport buildings survived till this day. The most iconic one is none other than the main terminal building. Designed in the Streamline Moderne style, the terminal itself resembles an aeroplane taking flight. The choice of materials and the simplicity of its form are characteristics of the international style. In spite of these, elements of neoclassical architecture can also be seen in the building, such as the perfect symmetry and the order of its form – a drum (control tower) on top of a horizontal base (passenger terminal). This balance of a modern outlook and a neoclassical charm is apt for the first building to be seen on the Crown Colony. After the airport ceased operations, the building was used as the People’s Association headquarters from 1960 to 2009. It was last used as a venue for the 2011 Singapore Biennale, and has been vacant since then.

Former Kallang Airport 05
The West Block and the hangar

The East and West Blocks are located behind the terminal building, and housed the airline offices. Next to the West Block is the hangar, where planes were parked. These buildings were conserved together with the terminal building. In the past 60 years, they were used by various groups, such as the People’s Association, the Public Works Department and the Central Manpower Base (CMPB). In particular, when National Service was first introduced in 1967, the enlistment of national servicemen was conducted here. The CMPB moved to Tanglin Barracks in 1972 (and subsequently to Depot Road in 1989).

Former Kallang Airport 04
The East Block

Former Kallang Airport 03
The sheltered walkway in front of the East Block

A sheltered walkway now connects Kallang MRT Station to the Sports Hub. Interestingly, this roughly marks out the path most people would take to get to the old National Stadium, back when Stadium MRT Station did not exist. Back then, the People’s Association headquarters would be a convenient stopover for anyone heading to watch the National Day Parade.

Singapore Sports Hub 02
This new overhead bridge links the sheltered walkway to the Sports Hub, across Nicoll Highway

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