Surbana Jurong Consultants designs HDB project SkyResidence @ Dawson with a distinctive double-S curve

Surbana Jurong Consultants designs HDB project SkyResidence @ Dawson with a distinctive double-S curve

Surbana Jurong Consultants designs HDB project SkyResidence @ Dawson with a distinctive double-S curve

At his National Day Rally Speech in 2007, Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong announced that Dawson, located within Queenstown, itself the oldest public housing estate in Singapore, was to undergo a dramatic makeover fit for the 21st century. He spoke of how “old estates also have great potential” and that with selective redevelopment, the government was able to “clear a big piece of land, then we can transform the whole area and make it like a new estate”. 

This initiative became known as “Remaking Our Heartland” (ROH) and Dawson was one of three chosen estates, with the other two being Yishun and Punggol. All eyes were on Dawson, as this was the birthplace of the Housing & Development Board’s (HDB) public housing and Singaporeans were naturally curious as to how it would breathe new life into such a mature location. 

Fast forward to 16 years later and seven clusters* of skyscrapers now rise up from the estate, sited one after another along the Alexandra Canal Linear Park. Of them, the precinct SkyResidence @ Dawson, stands out for having a double-S curve design. Conceived by Surbana Jurong Consultants, it comprises a total of 1,217 apartments spread over eight blocks, six of which rise up to 47 storeys in height. 

SkyResidence @ Dawson by Surbana Jurong Consultants, photo by Darren Soh of double S curve and its unique addition to the skyline
The form of these two 47-storey blocks within SkyResidence @ Dawson makes for a unique skyline.

A distinctive skyline 

Connected throughout by a similarly winding 500m-long “green ribbon” environmental deck that makes its way from the second to eighth storey, SkyResidence @ Dawson allows residents to walk from one end of the precinct to the other, without going down to the ground floor. Along the way, several mature Angsana trees conserved from the former HDB estate flank the blocks, adding to the theme of “housing in the park”.

SkyResidence @ Dawson by Surbana Jurong Consultants, photo by Darren Soh of double S curve and environmental deck
A view of SkyResidence @ Dawson showing both the double-S curve form of the precinct as well as its “green ribbon” environmental deck that runs from the second to the eight storey. 

S-shaped HDB estates are not a new thing; HDB had built one in the 1990s at Hougang Street 11. However, never before did a curved HDB precinct reach all the way up to 47 storeys in height as SkyResidence @ Dawson does. The sinuous design allowed HDB to site a large number of dwelling units into a fairly compact plot, while enabling most units to have views that were not the living rooms of their neighbours.

A sky terrace on the 26th storey also joins the eight blocks together, forming a “void deck” in the sky with playgrounds and exercise areas, as well as community living rooms where interaction between residents can take place.

At ground level, nestled among the mature Angsana trees and a new multi-storey hawker centre is a large playground that today serves as a focal point for the community. Because of its location in one of the nooks of the double S-curve, it is shaded and draws large crowds both young and old in the evenings. 

SkyResidence @ Dawson by Surbana Jurong Consultants, photo by Darren Soh of sky terraces
A close up view of the sky terraces on level 26. 
SkyResidence @ Dawson by Surbana Jurong Consultants, photo by Darren Soh of playground
The playground, flanked by mature Angsana trees and where the former Queenstown Town Centre was located, is now sited within one of the nooks of the double-S curve design of SkyResidence @ Dawson.

Tucked in between is the conserved former market at 38 Commonwealth Avenue, built in 1960 by the Singapore Improvement Trust. This is also where the previous Queenstown Town Centre was located, and historical markers have been put up to inform residents and visitors alike of its historical significance. 

In October this year, SkyResidence @ Dawson was one of four HDB precincts that were awarded the coveted HDB Design Award in the category of Completed Housing Projects and Surbana Jurong Consultants added yet another feather to its cap. The jury specially commended it for utilising the unusual double-S curve design to achieve a distinctive skyline, as well as incorporating heritage elements, like the mature Angsana trees and the former Queenstown Town Centre and Commonwealth Avenue market into the precinct – breathing new life into old. 

SkyResidence @ Dawson by Surbana Jurong Consultants, photo by Darren Soh of conserved market at 30 Commonwealth Avenue
The conserved former Commonwealth Avenue market with SkyResidence @ Dawson in the background. 

A less sensitive designer could have easily erased the rich heritage of the site – but it must be remembered that this was where HDB first started some 60 years ago. Credit must also be given to the architects for incorporating a host of throwbacks to the past on the site, while managing to massively intensify the land use for high-density, 21st-century living.

An unexpected change

The story of how SkyResidence @ Dawson came to be would be incomplete without delving further into its history. After being awarded the project in 2008 following an ROH roadshow, Surbana made little mention of it, announcing only that it would be built “at a later date”. It also did not have a name yet, and was unceremoniously referred to as “Dawson Site A”, even in official literature.

The project made an appearance in Housing People: Affordable Housing Solutions for the 21st Century, a book it published in 2012. In it, one could see the form of what it would eventually look like when built. It was simply referred to as “New Generation Housing @ Dawson”.

Then came the bombshell announcement in 2014 that all remaining 31 blocks of flats built in the 1960s in Tanglin Halt would be subject to a major Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) exercise. The 10-storey blocks there had been gradually redeveloped over the years but almost nobody expected that what was left would be cleared all at one go. Residents from those flats would have to relocate and their homes (and the land they sat on) returned to the State.

For this SERS exercise, five new Dawson projects were announced as replacement sites for residents from the 31 Tanglin Halt blocks. Among them was a familiar project first unveiled some seven years before, the Surbana project. Only this time, it had a name – SkyResidence @ Dawson. Targeted for a 2020 completion, the project would not be a Built-To-Order (BTO) project as originally intended, but offered mainly to affected SERS residents from Tanglin Halt.

Located a mere five minutes walk from Queenstown MRT Station and sitting on the site of the former Duchess Estate in Queenstown, SkyResidence @ Dawson would no doubt be placed squarely in Prime Location Public Housing (PLH) territory if it were launched for sale today. However, this was 2014 and the idea of PLH did not yet exist.

SkyResidence @ Dawson by Surbana Jurong Consultants, photo by Darren Soh of Queenstown MRT station
The East-West train line runs right in front of SkyResidence @ Dawson, from which is a mere five-minute walk to Queenstown MRT Station.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was delayed by nearly two years and was finally completed in late 2022. Thankfully, because its intended occupants were SERS residents from Tanglin Halt, most continued to stay in their flats until their new homes were ready.

Like all well-designed HDB public housing precincts, SkyResidence @ Dawson must be experienced in person to fully appreciate the thought put into the design of the project. Only then can the appreciation for Surbana Jurong Consultants be felt – specifically how it went above and beyond the brief given by HDB to fit over 1,200 dwelling units into a space formerly occupied by just several hundred flats and yet maintain a high level of liveability. As PM Lee had promised, Dawson is now indeed transformed. 

*Editor’s note: Two BTO and four other SERS replacement projects stand beside SkyResidence @ Dawson. They include SkyTerrace @ Dawson by SCDA Architects and SkyVille @ Dawson by WOHA Architects. It was the first time these two President’s Design Award winners designed public housing – but these are stories for another day.