Thursday, 3 March 2016

Creating a void in our HDB void decks

10 Everyday Void Deck Scenes We Will Soon Never See Again

Tanjong Pagar Town Council has since confirmed that the railings were set up to prevent ball games, following complaints from residents.

What is becoming more obvious is that we are less and less able to do the things that were once possible at the community void deck of HDB housing estates.

The HDB flat is the essence of a Singaporean identity, but here are some of the things that we may no longer be able to see at our void decks in the future.

Primary school boys playing football at the void deck after school
No more void deck weddings
Funeral services
No more Ah Mahs and Ah Kongs chit-chatting
A break place for construction workers
The homeless (even temporary ones) taking a rest
Traditional mama shops
Freedom of physically handicapped people to move around
Recreational amenities like ping-pong tables
Bird-singing corners
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3 ways we can revive the dying void deck culture
A void deck in an HDB

When I was a child and dinosaurs ruled the Earth, void decks were where we rushed after school. The void deck was the social hub of any HDB block – it was where we met friends, played Caroms, and learned the C chord on a guitar (learning two other chords made you a prodigy in the void deck school of music.)

Do we remember what void decks are for? The term “void deck” only came about in the 1970s, after newspapers began to use them. The void deck refers to the open ground floor of many HDB blocks – this was supposed to be a meeting area, like a public forum.

The oldest void deck is allegedly Block 26 Jalan Klinik, which was built in 1963 (aka the only time harem pants were appropriate in public.) Before this important milestone, HDB flats had regular apartments on the ground floor. Here’s how we might be able to bring the void deck culture back:
  • Bring back the Community Children’s Libraries
  • Promote games and fun in the void deck
  • Bring back the shops
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Marine Parade town council apologises for posters banning chess in common areas
Draughts players gathering around the covered linkway between Blocks 11 and 12 Haig Road.ST FOTO: YEO SAM JO

The authorities have taken down & apologised for posters that banned residents from playing chess in common areas.

A spokesman for Marine Parade Town Council said the 3 posters, which it put up at the void deck and covered walkway of Blk 11, Haig Road in early January, were a "mistake".

"We acknowledge our oversight for the content of the poster which does not reflect our intention well. As such, we would like to apologise for the wrong context of our poster," said the spokesman.

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Poster disallowing chess games in common areas put up after complaints

A foto of a poster put up by the Marine Parade Town Council disallowing games of chess at common areas drew the ire of netizens on Sunday (Mar 13), with many asking how a seemingly quiet game of chess could end up being an issue.

The foto of the poster, which read "No playing of chess at common areas", was posted on Wake Up, Singapore's Facebook page on Sunday afternoon with the caption: "Marine Parade Town Council, what is wrong with you? This is NOT Majulah".

No other details were given, such as where or when the poster was found.

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Signs of yes-men

It struck many people as mindless: the notice banning the playing of chess in common areas of public housing at Block 11 Haig Road.

How could playing chess in public areas be such a nuisance that it merits a heavy-handed ban? In any case, isn’t the sight of retirees playing chess in void decks a common sight all over Singapore? If they have never posed any problem, why now?

It was so indefensible that Marine Parade Town Council quickly took the notice down. But not before trying to defend it! In a Facebook post, it said:

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Void Decks in Singapore: More than a Void

In the 1960s, many Singaporeans moved from squatter settlements and villages to the first high-rise flats built by the Housing Development Board (HDB). The Bukit Ho Swee fire in 1961, which rendered some 16,000 homeless, convinced many that the HDB flat was a more viable housing option.

Queenstown and Toa Payoh were the earliest satellite housing estates in the 1960s, and became test beds for much of Singapore’s public housing. More than 80% of Singaporeans live in public housing today and to some of us, the HDB flat is the brick and mortar to the Singaporean identity.

One often-overlooked aspect of public housing estates is the void deck. Flats usually only occupy buildings from the second floor onwards, and the void deck is the open and spacious area on the ground level.

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No football in void decks: Singapore’s irresistible urge to police empty spaces

THE Singaporean government’s recent attempt to discourage youth from playing football in open spaces under public high-rise housing estates by installing metal railings has drawn heavy criticism. (This empty space is usually called a “void deck” in Singapore.)

The void deck, according to Dr. Yaacob Ibrahim, is a space “where residents can gather to meet friends or where our children can run around, whether rain or shine.” It serves as a shared space that has been “instrumental in developing a sense of community.” To the state, however, football is an exception. You can run around as long as you don’t kick a ball (parkour is acceptable too; in fact, it seems like the railings are there to encourage it).

Just shy of imposing a ban, the state has come up with increasingly innovative (or some might say ludicrous) ways to prevent youth from playing football in void decks. Whether it is placing spikes on the wall or setting up metal railings, the state takes an interventionist approach towards resolving neighborly disputes that favors the restriction of spontaneous activity.

related: Singapore government installs anti-football barriers in public spaces

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Nails Installed at HDB Void Decks to Stop Kids from Playing Football are a Hazard to Residents

Looking at the stories on the different town council gaffes when it comes to trying to stop people from doing things (here, here and here for example), these nails stuck on the walls of HDB flat void decks to prevent kids from playing football shouldn’t be a surprise.

The nails were installed on the upper portions of the walls about 12 years ago at over 100 flats in Tampines.

The aim was to burst the kids’ balls should they have a kick around.

Shame on HDB for Killing the Void Deck where Families Socialise, Play Together
Town Council Goondus Erect Barriers Meant to Help Elderly, Handicapped move
Woodlands Park to Nowhere: Town Councils Fight to Out-Gabra One Another

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Void deck railings to stop ball games
3 railings, each around 3.5m long, were erected across the void deck at Block 143 Mei Ling Street last Saturday. ST FOTO: LIM YAOHUI

A set of barriers that caused confusion among residents of a Queenstown Housing Board block when they were installed at its void deck were set up to stop football being played, Tanjong Pagar Town Council clarified yesterday.

3 railings, each around 3.5m long, were erected across the void deck at Block 143 Mei Ling Street last Saturday, leaving residents scratching their heads & wondering what they had been put there for.

One Facebook user posted a photograph of them and wrote: "(This) space, originally filled with so much potential for use and creativity, is now effectively transformed into a dead space."

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Those HDB Void Deck Railings

There is this mini hullabaloo over some railings at some void decks in Queenstown. Unhappy residents are complaining that the railings serve no purposes and took up valuable space in the void deck which could otherwise be used for other purpose.

On first look I do agree that they don’t serve much purpose. They don’t look good at all. And unlike those at the Queenstown’s void decks, there isn’t much of a void deck here. Just the lift lobby. Then it hit me… maybe the intention is to prevent vehicles from cutting across the lift lobby and knocking down the unsuspecting residents coming out of the lift.  But wait! What vehicle under the block? Maybe the odd bicycles? But if that was the case, instead of railings wouldn’t be it more useful to install benches? Serve the same purpose but more practical use?

Then in a moment of enlightenment I realised that the smart people at HDB or the Town Council have much greater foresight than us uncouth residents. You see – they are thinking much further ahead than most of us. A bench will only allow people to sit down and maybe lie down and nothing much else. On the other hand, railings are multi-purpose.
It can be used to “park” bicycles
It can be used to hang laundry. Especially useful when it rain
And for those enlisting for NS, they can use it practice one of the obstacle station on it or do parkour
And last but not least – people can still sit on it while waiting for the lift

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Barriers erected in covered walkway in Fengshan? Impedes older and disabled users

With the prospect of 1 in 5 of the population being aged 65 years and above in Singapore by 2030, it is necessary that buildings are made barrier-free and user-friendly. But it seems one constituency is doing the exact opposite.

According to an online forum, barriers have been constructed in the covered walkway in Block 100, Bedok North Ave 4.

It is unknown when the barrier was constructed, but the block of flats are in the newly created single member constituency of Fengshan. The Member of Parliament for that constituency, Cheryl Chan, won Workers’ Party’s Dennis Tan in a close contest last election.

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Another creative neighbourhood design spotted, this time it’s a railing at Marsiling

This railing is located at Block 204 Marsiling Drive. A photo of it was posted on Hardware Zone forum on March 18.

This creative neighbourhood design follows a series of others that have already been publicised: Such as these railings in the void deck to deter footballers and these blocks at the base of the ramp to deter motorised bikes and cyclists.

However, the true nature of these yellow railings are not entirely clear or easy to rationalize.

This defensive architecture shows why Singaporeans can’t have nice things
This photograph shows how you effectively kill a void deck

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Saddened by 'slow death' of HDB void decks

If you grew up before video games destroyed childhood, like I did, the HDB void deck probably holds a special place in your heart.

As a kid growing up somewhere in Tampines in the early 90s, I can attest to this.

It was the warm, familiar place I went to, to escape the harsh realities of being a kid, like homework, household chores and my mother's constant nagging because I didn't want to do either of those things.

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The vanishing void deck
Precinct pavillions and smaller void decks (above) have replaced spacious HDB void decks. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND LUI

SOME Woodlands residents were in a flap last week over plans to convert their void deck into a day-care centre for elderly folk.

Among other reasons, they said they would be deprived of a place to gather and hold weddings and wakes.

But the spacious void deck - a feature synonymous with public housing here - has actually disappeared in new estates such as Punggol and Sengkang.

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HDB void decks

A commonly dismissed area by the common man of the street, void decks of HDB decks in Singapore actually play important roles in our daily lives.

From wedding ceremonies to venues for community bonding, theres a whole list of uses the place has!

In many void decks, its common to find amenities such as provision shops, senior citizens corners, resident commitees (RCs) and kindergartens/childcare centres as well!

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Exhibition on void decks over the years

A TRAVELLING exhibition on Singapore's void decks was launched in Bendemeer yesterday by Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts Yaacob Ibrahim.

It shows how void decks have been used over the years, including as bird singing corners and defence shelters, as well as for weddings and funerals.

Local bloggers contributed their photographs and memories of the communal spaces' evolution over the years.

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DJ Will FB

Instead of educating the ppl.. they chose to install unnecessary items to prevent.. using taxpayer's money.

Gone were the days where kids could play anywhere.. everywhere there are restrictions in SG

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Barriers installed to discourage football in HDB void deck

A Facebook post first shared by DJ Will encapsulates the sheer will of the powers that be to ensure that the Void deck remains, well, void. Void of spirit, as some may argue. The post attracted considerable attention online. At the time of this post, it has been shared almost 500 times and has attracted hundreds of comments. The passive backlash ranged from disillusionment, to regret and, of course, cynicism.

Many also noted that while they were aware of the partitions on benches, the spikes on the wall and the ‘railings’ in the void deck were something new. Lamentation about the ‘lack of childhood’ and the eradication of the ‘kampong spirit’ were also prevalent in many reactions.

Three railings, each around 3.5m long, were erected across the void deck at Block 143 Mei Ling Street last Saturday, leaving residents scratching their heads and wondering what they had been put there for.
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Void deck railings to stop ball games

A set of barriers that caused confusion among residents of a Queenstown Housing Board block when they were installed at its void deck were set up to stop football being played, Tanjong Pagar Town Council clarified yesterday.

Three railings, each around 3.5m long, were erected across the void deck at Block 143 Mei Ling Street last Saturday, leaving residents scratching their heads and wondering what they had been put there for.

One Facebook user posted a photograph of them and wrote: "(This) space, originally filled with so much potential for use and creativity, is now effectively transformed into a dead space."

read more

Void deck

Void decks are the open spaces located on the ground floor of Housing and Development Board (HDB) blocks of flats. These were introduced in blocks built after 1969. The void deck is generally defined by the structural columns of the block. Small kiosks selling sundry goods may be found in void decks, usually facing the lift lobby. Void decks serve as communal and social spaces for events and activities like Malay weddings and funeral wakes, and as polling stations during elections.

Background - The void deck is one of two common areas found in a block of HDB flats; the other being the common corridor. The void deck was not a feature in flats built prior to the 1970s. Flats built by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) – which was replaced by the HDB in 1960 – did not have void decks. At the time, tenement and artisan flats built by the SIT in locations such as Tiong Bahru, Queenstown, Upper Pickering Street, Boon Keng Road, Kampong Silat and Race Course Road, had housing units or shops on the ground floor.

The early blocks of flats built by the HDB in the 1960s also did not have void decks. In the early years, ground-floor flat units were highly sought-after because these provide direct access to the outdoors. They were also popular with people who feared taking lifts. However, ground-floor flats gradually began to lose favour with homebuyers as the units offered little privacy and ventilation. Some residents also felt that the flats were located too close to the rubbish chutes in the blocks.

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Void deck
 A void deck under a HDB apartment block in Singapore

A void deck is an open space typically found on the ground floor of apartment blocks in Singapore. The void deck occupies the ground level, while apartments are usually on the second floor and above.

Void decks are spaces for community mingling, where functions are often attended by neighbors across the ethnic spectrum. Sometimes, events like weddings or funeral wakes are held in such places. Small grocers, medical and dental clinics, bakeries, and other shops are often located in void decks, especially in older apartment blocks. These amenities are often converted bomb shelters, with parts of the shelter still usable in case of an attack.

Most void decks also have bicycle racks, benches, and recreational tables for residents' use. It is common for void deck tables to have either a xiangqi or checkers board carved on them. Void decks also facilitate walking across blocks on the ground level, rather than circumnavigating them.

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Workers’ Party MP Pritam Singh creates barrier-free access for wheelchair-bound elderlies while PAP town councils disregards them

Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC, Pritam Singh, has written in his Facebook page about how he accepted the feedback of one of his elderly residents to cut a pathway through an archway which connects one block with another in his estate.

Previously the dividers in the archway required a wheelchair bound person to negotiate around it, exposing them to the rain.

Mr Singh said that his town council was working to rectify a similar design-flaw in another archway connecting a different set of blocks in his constituency.

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Bridging social divide calls for more than HDB flats on prime land

The rich-poor divide in society cannot be bridged simply by building more Housing Board flats on prime land, said the Minister for Social and Family Development yesterday.

While the Government might build such flats, achieving the aim of greater mixing across social divides called for more than this, as it entails people being willing to interact and foster strong community ties, said Mr Chan Chun Sing. Good designs and careful planning can help foster this, he added.

He was responding to a question on whether the Government would consider increasing interaction between the haves and have-nots by building HDB flats on prime land, like Marina South

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Going places

We might not realise this, but most of us here actually live right above a public space: the humble HDB void deck. Both Rachel and Joo Heng hope to see more varied and interesting uses of the void deck, rather than its current standing as an interstitial space or a temporary setting for wakes and weddings. Kids can’t even kick a ball around there anymore.

“I remember seeing old men playing Chinese chess in the void decks—this was over 20 years ago—on the fixed table that had a chessboard grid etched onto it,” Rachel recalls. “Their friends would gather to watch. Of course, it didn’t matter if this same elderly group decided to sit around for a chat instead. In this case, furniture that prescribed a certain use served as a catalyst for social interaction.”

Rachel contends that bringing back the mama shop, an endangered breed of stores these days, might liven up void decks. The area around these shops always seem “friendlier and more inviting,” she adds. “The bigger idea is not so much programme creation for void decks as it is creating a sense of community.”

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"Void Deck" Birds

It is a view at the void deck of Blk 817 Jurong West Ave 5 crowded with countless number of bird cages come and go as morning wee hours passed by.

The birds are rhyming here and there while uncles are chatting all sorts of gossips and their grand-children are playing and running around the place care-freely. It seems like everyone is having quality time together at a place filled with sense of companionship and unification.

Featured birds: Merbok, Jambul, Matah Puteh, Sharma, Parrot

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“Void Deck Bird Park”

After several exhausting hours running about and climbing around, I would still not be done for the day. There was one last place for me to visit.

Several HDB blocks away was a void deck with a bird-singing corner, which I called the “Void Deck Bird Park”. It was a place where bird owners from near and far would gather with their prized pets, and listen to the birdsongs. You could hear the birds chirping, even from a distance, and it’s sure to make you think you are in an aviary.

Sometimes, the birdsongs were melodious and beautiful, like nature’s own majestic orchestra when they were in sync; but when they were not in harmony, they sounded like an ill-prepared school band at practice.

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The void deck carries fond memories for many of us. The term “void deck” is a uniquely Singaporean one, referring to the ground floor of HDB blocks that has been left open as sheltered space, where residents can gather to meet friends or where our children can run around, whether rain or shine.

Today, our void decks may also house a convenience shop, a resident’s corner or even an early education centre. We also use the void deck as a venue for important celebrations, including birthday parties and weddings. Other times, they serve as places where we hold sombre gatherings following the passing of a loved one. It is clear that as a shared space, the void deck has been instrumental in developing a sense of community in our public housing. Over time, the use of void decks will continue to evolve. For example, void decks have recently served as a venue for travelling exhibitions that celebrate our heritage; or as a showcase for community art where residents gather to paint murals and enjoy their art work.

These will be useful efforts as part of our Living Arts, Loving Culture suite of programmes for both young and old, and serve as an encouragement for arts practitioners and heritage enthusiasts to emerge from within the community. In this way, the void deck will always remain a part of our lives – common yet unique to communities.

An early HDB flat in Toa Payoh where the ground floor was occupied with residential units instead of a void deck (1968). Courtesy of Singapore Press Holdings
The oldest void deck in Singapore at Block 26, Jalan Klinik (2012). Courtesy of National Heritage Board
A letterbox at the void deck of Blk 54, Marine Terrace (2012). Courtesy of Belinda Tan
A ping-pong table at the void deck of Blk 440, Ang Mo Kio (2012). Courtesy of National Heritage Board 
A two-tiered bicycle rack at the void deck of Blk 19, Marine Terrace (2012). Courtesy of Belinda Tan

A group of elderly residents playing chess at the void deck of Blk 337, Ang Mo Kio (2012). Courtesy of National Heritage Board

The former Nee Soon Central Community Children’s Library (1999). Courtesy of National Library Board
Playgrounds and toy libraries - A former children’s playground located at a void deck. Courtesy of Housing & Development Board 
Buddhist funeral rites being conducted at a void deck. Courtesy of Sean Tan
A Malay wedding at a void deck with the wedding dais on the right. Courtesy of What’s Up
Art galleries The community art gallery located at the void deck of Blk 56, Pipit Road (2012). Courtesy of National Heritage Board
Bird singing corners - A typical weekend morning at the bird singing corner at Block 440, Ang Mo Kio (2012). Courtesy of National Heritage Board
Civil defence shelters - One of the entrances/exits to the ground-level bomb shelter at Block 310, Yishun Ring Road (2012). Courtesy of National Heritage Board
The former Khe Bung Neighbourhood Police Post at Boon Keng Road (1983). Courtesy of the former Ministry of Information, Communications & the Arts
The Kolam Ayer St George’s West Residents’ Committee centre located at Blk 1, St George’s Road (2012). Courtesy of National Heritage Board
A purpose-built Senior Citizens’ Corner at the void deck of Block 232, Bishan Street 22 (2012). Courtesy of National Heritage Board
The first makeshift coffee shop selling only cooked food at Blk 930, Hougang (2012). Courtesy of National Heritage Board
The “mama shop” which has been operating at the void deck of Block 41, Sims Drive, since 1981 (2012). Courtesy of National Heritage Board

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The vanishing void decks