Singapore From The Air: 50 Years Of Change

Prior to the withdrawal of all of its troops in 1971, Britain had a substantial military presence in Singapore. In 1967, for example, British bases contributed up to 20% of Singapore’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It was during this period, that Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) operated 5 bases (RAF Changi, Seletar, Sembawang and Tengah) and conducted extensive aerial imagery operations.

These operations were commissioned by Britain’s Directorate of Overseas Surveys (DOS). Established after the Second World War, DOS was responsible for mapping parts of the Commonwealth that had no survey capabilities. The entity contracted various aerial surveys of each country, to provide a basis for map making. In theory, the maps and aerial images should have helped Singapore with city planning and administration.

Recently, the National Archives of Singapore (NAS) released this imagery online, giving us an insight into the newly independent Republic. We thought it would be a good idea to see how the images differed from the Singapore of today, and where 50 years of change has got us.


Once called the “aviation miracle of the East” by Amelia Earhart, Kallang Airport closed its doors in 1955. Remnants of the airport can still be seen in 1969, with the runway being dismantled, and in 2018, with the balloon-shaped land that is now occupied by the Sports Hub.

Marina Bay

In the 1950s, The Fullerton Building was seen to be Singapore’s public symbol. Stationed right at the waterfront, its rooftop housed the lighthouse which guided ships into Singapore. Soon, the building started appearing in every postcard, being recognised by every traveller and ship captain from all over the world.

50 years later, The Fullerton isn’t at the waterfront anymore, with an entire district (Marina Bay) reclaimed from the sea.


The State of Fun, wasn’t all that fun in the late 1960s. Formerly known as Pulau Blakang Mati (Malay: Island of Death Behind), its past was supposedly tainted with murder and piracy. In the 1960s, the island became a base for the Singapore Naval Volunteer Force, The School of Maritime Training and the Naval Medical Centre.

In a push to attract tourists to Singapore, the government announced the development of a holiday resort on the island. In a naming contest held in 1970, the island was renamed Sentosa — peace and tranquility in Malay.

Toh Payoh New Town

Toh Payoh was the second satellite town to be built in Singapore after Queenstown. It was also the first project to be completely conceived and built by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) — which was established to deal with the housing shortage in Singapore. On 20 June 1966, the first tenants moved into their flats in the new Toa Payoh satellite township.

East Coast Park

During the East Coast Reclamation Project, East Coast Park was stated to have a 9 acres swimming lagoon (seen in the imagery), areas for camping and picnicking, and outdoor sports. All of this was to be built on purely reclaimed land, as part of Singapore’s largest reclamation project.

Pulau Tekong

While most Singaporean Men look back at this island with pain and agony, it had an interesting past. Till the late 1980s, the island was home to up to 5000 residents who stayed in Kampongs around the island. There were also supposedly durian, mangosteen, coconut and tobacco plantations on Tekong.

Now, Pulau Tekong exclusively houses the Singapore Armed Forces and its units — like the Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC). The land surrounding the island has also been reclaimed multiple times — to the dismay of neighbouring Malaysia.

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