Hannah Tan Rui Shi
From the Ground Up: Reconstructing the Heartland Identity of Singapore

Thesis Supervisor: ​Dr. Ho Puay Peng

Site: Tanglin Halt, Singapore

The heartlands are a familiar site to many Singaporeans, and claimed by many to be part of their ‘Singaporean identity’.  However, unlike the rest of the world who associate ‘heartlands’ as the most important business or industrial area, the heartlands in Singapore are the completely opposite. They are the public housing estates, where 85% of the population live. How did such a definition of ‘heartland’ come about? Why are they constructed the way that they are? 

This thesis aims to explore the processes involved in constructing an identity and how they relate to the built environment. The heartlands in Singapore serve as an appropriate testbed. The concept of a heartland was not simply to meet housing needs, but the idea of home ownership helped to deepen the sense of rootedness of the population to the country. 

The Housing Development Board (HDB) flats within each heartland estate were and still are physical manifestations of a crafted state narrative that was used to push for political agenda.


The thesis then strives to discover a new perspective of the heartland identity, by eliminating the influence of the political construct and speculating a social construct where the community takes a bottom-up stance to create their own identity in the heartlands. This is done by studying alternative culture communities who express themselves in ways that deviate from the mainstream. The architecture then explores possibilities of bridging the gap between such communities and the mainstream public in a heartland setting. 

Food Hall

A food hall, made up of both traditional and modern hawker stalls to bridge the gap between the old and new, with its facade holding many nostalgic items that are currently displayed at My Queenstown Museum.

Aerial View
Safe Space

Alternative culture communities are attracted to safe spaces and places that they can linger and express themselves. Such spaces are found in pockets among the landscape and amphitheatres that allow them to interact and forge bonds with each other to create a stronger ground-up identity. 

Second Storey

Bridging the Mainstream & Alternative Cultures

The second storey is designed as an elevated platform that links the exisitng HDB and SIT flats with the newly-built structures, which parallels the bridging of interactions and relationships between the mainstream public and the alternative culture groups.


Curvilinear vs Rectilinear

The curvilinear form of the platform vastly contrasts with the standardised rectilinear HDB and SIT flats, representing the nature of alternative culture communities, where every curve, like each alternative culture, is unique and distinct from one another.  


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From the Ground Up
From the Ground Up