Heritage Spotlight

Amelia Earhart called Kallang Airport the aviation miracle of the east

Once Singapore’s first civilian airport, the Kallang Airport building has been used for events such as the Singapore Biennale in 2011. HIGHLIGHTS: MAIN TERMINAL BUILDING.
Once Singapore’s first civilian airport, the Kallang Airport building has been used for events such as the Singapore Biennale in 2011. HIGHLIGHTS: MAIN TERMINAL BUILDING.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG
HIGHLIGHTS: HANGAR.
HIGHLIGHTS: HANGAR.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG
HIGHLIGHTS: LAMPPOSTS AND LANDSCAPE.
HIGHLIGHTS: LAMPPOSTS AND LANDSCAPE.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Kallang Airport was seen as the finest airport in the British Empire when it opened in 1937

Stepping into Kallang Airport's main terminal hall, with its lofty ceiling and Art Deco columns, one can imagine why the aerodrome, when it opened in 1937, was considered the finest airport in the British Empire.

Renowned female aviator Amelia Earhart, who stopped here just after it opened, famously called it the "aviation miracle of the East".

Kallang Airport was Singapore's first civilian airport. Its location, on filled-in swampland, allowed even seaplanes to land in the Kallang Basin.

The building is designed by British architect Frank Dorrington Ward, who was the chief architect of the Public Works Department in the Straits Settlements from 1928 to 1939. He was also responsible for Clifford Pier and the former Supreme Court building, which is now the National Gallery Singapore.

"Singapore was a very popular stopover at the time. People flying from Europe to Australia and Indonesia had to land in Singapore to refuel," says Mr Jevon Liew, executive planner at the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

By the early 1950s, the airport was already struggling to cope with the volume of air traffic and closed in 1955 after the opening of Paya Lebar International Airport. Gazetted for conservation in 2008, it was used as the People's Association's headquarters until 2009.

Its spaces have been used for events such as the Singapore Biennale in 2011 as well as fashion shows and music festivals.

•This is the last feature in the Heritage Spotlight series.


HIGHLIGHTS

1. MAIN TERMINAL BUILDING

With its clean, Modernist lines, the main terminal building is built to resemble an aeroplane, with wings extending out to the sides and a glass control tower front and centre, like a cockpit.

Inside the main hall, although some of the passageways have been boarded up and a false ceiling installed, visitors can still sense the grandeur of the airport's bustling glory days: its original Art Deco railings and columns still stand.

A spiral staircase leads to the open rooftop, where members of the public would stand and wave to arriving and departing planes.

To access the control tower, one ascends an extremely steep and narrow spiral staircase.

2. HANGAR

There were originally two hangars, one on either side of the airport's east and west administrative blocks, but one was dismantled and reassembled at the new Paya Lebar airport.

The one that remains retains its original corrugated metal roof and steel trusses.

"This is the only conserved airplane hangar in Singapore," says Mr Jevon Liew, executive planner at the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

The wall with the door facing the main building was a later addition to the structure, he adds.

In the past, it had an enormous sliding door that allowed planes in and out.

The hangar is not large by today's standards, but of course, planes were much smaller then.

The earliest planes to land at Kallang, says Mr Liew, brought mail and fresh flowers from Europe.

3. LAMPPOSTS AND LANDSCAPE

The buildings border a teardrop-shaped lawn, part of the airport's original landscape, which was much larger than it is today.

A road now runs through what was formerly the lawn's imposing grounds. Its original gates with the state crest still stand in an overgrown grass area opposite its current boundary wall.

Leading up to the main terminal building in a line are three double-lanterned and three single-lanterned lampposts.

"This is the only set of conserved lampposts we have in Singapore," says Mr Liew.

"You will find some very old lampposts in Seletar and Dempsey, but this is the most complete set we have."

He adds: "I guess in the old days they were not very special, but today, when you look at them... they are special."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2017, with the headline 'Aviation miracle of the East'. Print Edition | Subscribe