From Pickering to Pinnacle: Ghosts of Public Housing

Dr Eunice Seng3

3The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China

1997. The young man jumps down from the top of the twelve-story slab block. His ghost gets up and returns to the block. This is the opening scene of Twelve Stories – the first film to foreground Singapore’s public housing as a space of urban isolation. The cinematic haunting of public housing marks the demise of the uniform slab-block design and the shift to variegated block configurations built in Bishan New Town, which is sited on previously a Chinese cemetery. Contrarily, the streamlined high rise types built by the colonial Improvement Trust in the 1950s did not fit into the national housing crisis narrative. Their exclusion was exacerbated by the numerous deaths from three nine-story blocks known as “suicide flats” on Upper Pickering Street in the city centre. When they were demolished in 2005, construction began for the nearby Pinnacle at Duxton – seven fifty-story housing blocks interconnected by sky gardens. In 2019, a young woman leapt from the fiftieth story. Against the spectre of nationalism, this paper investigates the Pickering and Pinnacle public housing projects as products of the cycles of modernization and obsolescence shaped by global developments. It probes the other narratives and spaces of the disappeared, excluded and imagined past and future.


Eunice Seng is Associate Professor and Chair of the PhD program in Architecture at The University of Hong Kong; and Principal of SKEW Collaborative. Her work explores interdisciplinary intersections and questions of agency in architecture, housing, domesticity and public space. She is author of Resistant City: Histories, Maps and the Architecture of Development (WSP, 2020).


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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