Tiong Bahru is one of the oldest housing estates in Singapore. The construction style of the estate is a mix of Streamline Moderne and local Straits Settlements shop-house architecture. The flats feature rounded balconies, flat rooftops, spiral staircases, light wells and underground storage and shelters.
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It is apparent that a lot of effort was put into designing the estate with a series of flats that are visually pleasing. Thus the flats in the Tiong Bahru estate contrasted markedly with those of the much later post-war mass housing programs undertaken by SIT's successor, the Housing and Development Board. In contrast with the aesthetic art deco theme of the Tiong Bahru flats, the flats built by the Housing Board in the 1950s and 1960s are starkly utilitarian in appearance and design; where flats are almost identical in their two-dimensional "matchbox" style.
Not many people could afford to live in the Tiong Bahru Estate during the pre-World War II years. It was the choice place of living for the upper class and also the place where the rich and powerful kept their mistresses. For this reason, the estate used to be known as Mei Ren Wo("den of beauties" in Chinese).
The population in Tiong Bahru estate tripled after the Second World War, and it gradually lost its exalted status as an exclusive upper class housing estate. However, it retained its close-knit Kampung (small village in Malay) spirit and became a bustling and lively little town where everyone knows and looks out for each other.