Amidst the prolific greenery of the Rail Corridor, it felt almost as if I wasn’t in Singapore at all. In the early morning, traffic and construction had not yet begun, so I was accompanied only by the cries of cicadas and birds in the trees around me.

Finding Jalan Hang Jebat was a walk in the park, that took about 10 minutes from the nearest bus stop. Hidden behind the AYE, Jalan Hang Jebat is a secluded sanctuary reminiscent of times past. The small street hosts only colonial houses, and the residents there are live amidst nature and history.

What are SLA Colonial Houses?

Also known as Black and White colonial houses in Singapore, these buildings boast a rich history dating back to the early 1900s. Their distinctive aesthetic, characterized by the stark contrast of dark timber beams and whitewashed walls, are highly coveted for their style and historic value.

Originally, these houses functioning as military administrations, boarding schools for British soldiers’ children, or even residences.

The Forest Discovery Centre, near the Botanic Gardens, is the oldest preserved Black-and-White Bungalow in Singapore.
The Forest Discovery Centre, near the Botanic Gardens, is the oldest preserved Black-and-White Bungalow in Singapore.

Black and White Colonial Houses Singapore

The architectural style draws inspiration from the Tudorbethan era, a revival movement that reinterpreted elements of Tudor and Elizabethan architecture. Interestingly, the design is attributed to architect Regent Alfred John Bidwell, who conceptualized the iconic W. Patchitt House at Cluny Road.

These buildings were thoughtfully adapted to Singapore’s tropical climate. Features like high ceilings, stilts for ventilation, and verandas all contributed to keeping the houses cool in the pre-air conditioning era.

Additionally, some houses were elevated to provide protection against termites and flooding. Today, these houses are meticulously preserved as heritage buildings, with tenants and owners prohibited from making any alterations.

Singapore Land Authority (SLA) Colonial Houses

Today, about 500 colonial houses remain and are managed by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and are mostly state-owned. Some of the homes are reserved for residential stays while most are rented out for commercial purposes such as restaurants and businesses.

Where are black and white colonial houses located?

Of the 500 houses, many of them can be found in Sembawang and Seletar, there are also houses located in other areas, such as Alexandra Park, Mount Pleasant, Dempsey Hill, and Changi Road.

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One of two 2-story blocks on the right side of the street. The terrain of Jalan Hang Jebat is uneven and hilly, and the first level of these buildings are a short flight of stairs down.
One of two 2-story blocks on the right side of the street. The terrain of Jalan Hang Jebat is uneven and hilly, and the first level of these buildings are a short flight of stairs down.

Jalan Hang Jebat Rental Houses

1930s Colonial houses for officers

Built in the 1930s by the British, Jalan Hang Jebat’s colonial terrace houses were specifically designed to accommodate junior ranking officers. Their senior counterparts resided in the larger semi-detached houses of Wessex Estate.

A close-up of the smaller flats along Jalan Hang Jebat from the previous image. Each set of windows belong to a home, and four separate flats are captured in the image above.
A close-up of the smaller flats along Jalan Hang Jebat from the previous image. Each set of windows belong to a home, and four separate flats are captured in the image above.
More of such larger terraces line the street on the left side along Jalan Hang Jebat.
More of such larger terraces line the street on the left side along Jalan Hang Jebat.

Black and white colonial house design

These terrace houses, much like their counterparts in Wessex Estate, incorporated design elements to combat the tropical heat. High-pitched roofs, verandas, and rattan blinds ensured the interiors remained relatively cool even on scorching days

The front entrance of a terrace house along Jalan Hang Jebat, with its iconic black-and-white outdoor blinds indicative of SLA Colonial housing.
The front entrance of a terrace house along Jalan Hang Jebat, with its iconic black-and-white outdoor blinds indicative of SLA Colonial housing.
For residents of Jalan Hang Jebat, nature is found right at their doorstep.
For residents of Jalan Hang Jebat, nature is found right at their doorstep.
Lights on as residents prepare to leave for work in the early morning at Jalan Hang Jebat's SLA rental houses.
Lights on as residents prepare to leave for work in the early morning at Jalan Hang Jebat’s SLA rental houses.
Close up look at the distinctive black and white outdoor blinds signature to colonial-era Singapore Land Authority (SLA) rental houses.
Close up look at the distinctive black and white outdoor blinds signature to colonial-era Singapore Land Authority (SLA) rental houses.
The backyards of the terrace houses along Jalan Hang Jebat. Along the narrow path there were tea tables and large fish pots set up too.
The backyards of the terrace houses along Jalan Hang Jebat. Along the narrow path there were tea tables and large fish pots set up too.

Jalan Hang Jebat Residents

On my second visit, I saw a father playing with his daughter and dog, using large dried palm tree leaves as markers on the ground. It was a hot Wednesday, late in the afternoon, but they ran around in the open tarmac carpark outside their home.

I continued my exploration, and when I rounded back, I saw her leading her golden retriever into the open field facing the AYE, lush with tall, overgrown grass.

Most estates at Jalan Hang Jebat face the vast green field under Portsdown Avenue. Residents use this land frequently, and a set of tables and mismatched chairs sat in the middle of the field.
Most estates at Jalan Hang Jebat face the vast green field under Portsdown Avenue. Residents use this land frequently, and a set of tables and mismatched chairs sat in the middle of the field.
Poppy, a 14 year old Shiba Inu, and resident of Jalan Hang Jebat.
Poppy, a 14 year old Shiba Inu, and resident of Jalan Hang Jebat.

Poppy, Resident at Jalan Hang Jebat

When I spoke to Poppy’s owner, he mentioned he had lived in Jalan Hang Jebat for many years, and his primary school aged daughter spent her entire life growing up there. He enjoyed the serenity and closeness to nature, but found it more than a little inconvenient at times.

As I spoke to him, a neighbour walked past, immediately greeting Poppy’s owner, engaging him pleasantries and catch-ups. He was on the way home from work, and though he was in office attire on a sweltering afternoon, their conversation lasted way longer than just a simple chat between neighbours.

I decided to take my leave, and as I walked back toward the Rail Corridor, I caught sight of another old uncle leave his home with a bag full of delectable pastries leaving his gate. He walked the short path between his home and next door, opening the fence and greeting the aunty that lived there to drop off the goodies.

There was a special, interpersonal community within Jalan Hang Jebat that I felt like I was intruding upon. The displays of comradery and kampung spirit were palpable, and even though the distance between their homes is further than any HDB, their connections felt closer than mere neighbours.

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Jalan Hang Jebat Redevelopment

The Uncertain Future of a Heritage Enclave

The serene charm of Jalan Hang Jebat faces a potential threat. In my visit there, the area was surrounded by construction works, and there were utterances of plans to redevelop the estate.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) masterplan designates Jalan Hang Jebat for residential use, with detailed planning currently underway. News reports suggest that Queenstown could see an influx of over 5,000 new homes by 2027, with the area surrounding Jalan Hang Jebat likely targeted for development. Colonial-era buildings in nearby Warwick Road might also face demolition.

Though, when I spoke to a resident there, he mentioned that he had heard of that news, but that he wasn’t worried about being evicted for the near future. Though his house was rented, it was very much his home, and he was very fond of the place.

In our constantly redeveloping country, where skyscrapers pierce the sky and modern marvels reshape the landscape, Jalan Hang Jebat stands as a poignant reminder of a bygone era. Here, nestled amidst the urban jungle (and real greenery), lies a sanctuary of black and white colonial houses, whispering tales of a simpler time.

But the serenity is fragile, and not always guaranteed. If you’re inclined to visit one of the last few colonial estates actually nestled within greenery, drop by Jalan Hang Jebat while it still maintains its rustic charm.

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