style. you really are born with it. i stared at the building sitting elegant and gorgeous on a plot of land most unremarkable with deserted paths and green patches all around, barbed wire fences, not a soul in sight. behind it rose the towers and skyscrapers of a modern city, in front of it was the brand new indoor stadium with its gleaming retractable roof and other swish things. yet, all i could see and what was making me grin and sigh and want to get to it or at least get a good picture, was this splendid structure in steel, glass, and concrete with the most sensuous lines. yeah, lines were sensuous… i have no doubt the architect was totally excited and in a mood for a bit of fun and cool when he designed it.
this was to be singapore’s first civilian airport and the british empire clearly wanted a noteworthy one, a talking point even maybe. kallang airport, in operation from 1937 to 1955, was built on reclaimed land in the swampy kallang basin area in the south; the aerodrome was designed for both airplanes and sea planes.
inaugurated on 12 june 1937 by sir shenton thomas, the governor at the time, it was considered to be the finest airport of the empire (changi, you listening?). that’s what i read on the net and i can absolutely believe it. there is a body language in this building that leaves you staring, takes you to its time and adventurous mindset. the chief architect of the former public works department, frank dorrington ward, possibly designed it and apart from art deco touches, which are somehow always thrilling, there is this attitude in it. my husband described the building as quaint, but somehow that’s not how it looked to me… timeless savoir faire, i’d say, couldn’t care less it was all alone and quite ignored, looked fabulous anyway. i read, during the war kallang airport was used as a fighter airfield and by 1942 it had become the only one as the other three airports at tengah, seletar, and sembawang fell within the range of the japanese artillery based at johor bahru.
since 2009, when the people’s association moved out its hq to another site, the kallang airport building has been sitting empty. all around it grows a city that is always “upgrading”, no one mentions this place. i heard of it thanks to aj… he said his father had said we must go take a look at it sometime. so on my birthday, which is a day after singapore’s, my fam and friends joined us for a walk on old airport road.
aj was in a mood to make us see hdb’s up close, we ran into elevators, went up and took a look at classic hdb long corridors at one of the older blocks. there was a famous food centre nearby and across the road a group of 6/7 storey high, cream coloured buildings that didn’t look like hdb blocks but were so nonetheless. dakota crescent. a feel of another age about them, these homes were built in 1958. in the common green, one of the city’s oldest playgrounds had my daughter jumping onto slides and swings, the sort she’s never seen here. aj said the entire area was slotted for redevelopment. soon all this would be gone. lovely surroundings, the word sylvan came to mind.
dakota crescent is named after the dakota dc-3 plane that used to land at kallang airport. that’s a name from my childhood, a plane i’ve never been in but we’d hear about; we used to fly viscounts and fokker friendships from the tiny airport in mohanbari, assam to dumdum in calcutta. dumdum, palam in delhi… blue lights on the runway gleaming, calling, old airports had something about them.
just the other day i mentioned to a friend we’d gone that side and she squealed with happiness, she used to live in dakota crescent when she was in her early twenties, the first hdb her family moved into. yes, yes, on old airport road! back then the traffic was not heavy she recalled, and then a cherished, smiled at memory: food vendors would go by below calling out, she loved the colo mee; from her sixth floor apartment, they’d lower a basket with the money and the goodies would be placed in it by the seller, then gingerly drawn up and devoured instantly.
it was a beautiful birthday walk, the airport’s green glass glam and the “last time” air of dakota crescent still make me happy. thanks to aj’s father for the suggestion and to all those who went along with me that day. the sun was really sharp but we didn’t care.
if you’d like to read more on the two singapore places not on any tourist map:
road to singapore, old airport road, mountbatten road, stadium drive, stadium link, 10/08/2015 #SG50
end of 1997, we moved to singapore from india. in 2015, the country celebrated fifty years of independence. singapore has given me much and i am fascinated by the spirit of this gutsy city state with hardly any land or resources, but oh what dreams and chutzpah (the finest interpretation of the word), the ability to reach big, hunker down and hold and strategise and act and grow. despite my many years here, i haven’t seen a lot of the island, which started out at only 28 miles by 18. now of course it’s bigger, thanks to that spirit i spoke of. so anthony john or aj as i call him, my walking partner, and i decided to do fifty walks in the island to celebrate #SG50. well, we didn’t stop at fifty; couldn’t. there was still so much to see and feel and also how not to let the hot, merciless, climate-change sun not have its way with us. so the walks continue, as does the walk talk. hope you enjoy, try to bring an umbrella.