Launch of NHB’s Our Void Decks, Our Shared Spaces

13 04 2012

Void decks became a common feature of blocks of flats in Housing and Development Board (HDB) estates back in the 1970s. Offering shade and shelter, they quite naturally found use as common spaces for social interaction as well as for community events. Over time, the use of void decks have evolved beyond this and uses of the common spaces have extended to children’s toy libraries, bird singing corners, civil defence shelters, retail spaces, playgrounds and community art galleries.

Dr Yaacob Ibrahim opening 'Our Void Decks, Our Shared Spaces' exhibition at Blk 2, Saint George's Road on 12 April 2012. Looking on is James Seah.

To discover more of the history and evolution of void decks and their use, do visit National Heritage Board’s (NHB) exhibition “Our Void Decks, Our Shared Spaces”, which was opened by Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, and Advisor for Kolam Ayer, on 12 April 2012. The exhibition is the third in a series of travelling exhibitions focusing on community heritage and highlights the history and development of void decks in the Housing Development Board (HDB) heartlands, their common features and uses, and their role in providing shelter, building community, and promoting racial integration. The exhibition will also feature learning games related to the exhibition for which NHB has partnered Handson Learning, an educational consultancy specialising in museum and heritage programmes. The games will be conducted by students from schools in the proximity of the exhibition and for the preview during the opening, involved National Education Captains from Bendemeer Secondary School.

Handons Learning with which NHB has partnered is training students from neighbourhood schools to conduct learning games related to the exhibition to help raise awareness of the vital role that void decks play .

Representatives from Handons Learning together with National Education Captains from Bendemeer Secondary School were on hand to demonstrate the Snakes and Ladder game.

Besides the exhibition which is currently at Blk 2 Saint George’s Road Singapore 320002 until the end of April, there are also a group of bloggers (including myself) who have written personal stories and experiences and shared photographs to the exhibition.
The exhibition moves to Marine Parade in May 2012 and after to other void decks around Singapore.

Children from the neighbourhood having a go at the game.

Supporting blog entries for Our Void Decks, Our Shared Spaces are:

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The anatomy of an industrial estate

1 02 2011

These days, industrial estates are very much a feature of Singapore’s landscape outside the city as much as the HDB public housing estates are. Many would not bat an eyelid at the clusters of uninspired high-rise industrial buildings that dot the landscape. Built to house light industries, these high-rise factory buildings, referred to as flatted factories, were “imported” to Singapore at the time of the rapid industrialisation programme of the 1960s.

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Singapore’s very first flatted factory (right) at Commonwealth Drive.

Prior to the building of the first flatted factories, light industries such as metal working, shoe making, textiles and paper products manufacturing, had been accommodated in a mix of low rise units. Many operated out of pre-war shophouses or makeshift wooden and zinc -factories – some of which may have been squatting on state land.

Redevelopment, as well as the pressing need to develop new factory space for light industries to fuel growth, saw Singapore look towards Hong Kong, where the mainstay of the economy had been its small manufacturers. The building of multi-storey factory buildings, which provide large amounts of inexpensive factory space close to its urban centre – close to its source of labour and also where there was easy access to transportation, had proven a great success.

High rise industrial buildings, very much part of the landscape of today’s Singapore, were introduced in the 1960s. The idea was borrowed from Hong Kong, which pioneered the provision of low cost factory units housed in multi-storey buildings for the small enterprises that were a mainstay of its economy.

A pilot programme initiated by the Economic Development Board, gave us the first flatted factory buildings in 1966. Built at Tanglin Halt, Bendeemer, Kallang and Kampong Ampat, space in the five-storey flatted factory blocks were quickly taken up and many more were built.

This success also led to private investment in flatted factories. Along with those built by that were built by the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC), there were also many privately developed multi-storey factory blocks that have cropped up all over Singapore over the years.

The first flatted factories were rarely over 5 stories high and built without lifts, these days, they are typically higher.

Along with those built within the boundaries of public housing estates such as Queenstown and Toa Payoh, large clusters of flatted factories also came up in light industrial estates. One such estate is the Kolam Ayer Industrial Park, which features a rather interesting mix of private and JTC built flatted factory buildings.

The industrial park, is perhaps best known for the names of its roads. Some such as Tannery Lane, shed some light on the industrial  history of the area. There are others that have puzzling origins – such as one with the strangest of names, Kallang Pudding Road.

It is suggested that the pudding in the name originates from the pokok puding, Malay for the croton plant – a commonly seen shrub with variegated leaves. A road that served as a “shortcut” for my parents on their drives back from the Kallang area to Toa Payoh, where we lived, in my younger days; my overactive imagination had it as being a reference to the pudding I thought the swamp that once occupied the area had been.

The name of the area, Kolam Ayer, which was at the confluence of the Kallang and Whampoa Rivers, alludes to it having been a body of water (it means a basin, pond or pool of water in Malay). Old maps show it as a huge tidal swamp – part of a much bigger Kallang Basin than the one we know today and one around which industries such as sawmills thrived. The maps also show the municipal dump and an incinerator that operated in the area up until 1959.

A huge inland reclamation project in the area commenced at the end of 1961. Earth recovered from the major public housing project that was taking shape in Toa Payoh was apparently used. Carried out with the intention of transforming the basin, which covered a total area of some 405 hectares, into Singapore’s second industrial estate.

The first phase of the project was completed in 1969. At that point, some 3.8 million cubic metres of earth was used in filling up 154 hectares out of an area of 182 hectares that would have been submerged at high tide.

Kolam Ayer Industrial Park is a mix of private and government built flatted factory units and low rise light industrial building which was built on a site of a huge swamp at the confluence of the Kallang and Whampoa Rivers which was reclaimed in the 1960s using earth from Toa Payoh.

New buildings started coming up on the reclaimed land from the late 1970s , with the bulk, including those erected by the JTC, built in the early 1980s. The estate is probably one of the more interesting industrial areas to wander around. coloured by a mix of old and new factory buildings – some of which sit on seemingly small plots of land.

The mix provides a completely different feel to ones built at one go. It isn't the lack of uniformity or its regular warehouse sales where one can pick up a bargain or two that makes the estate interesting; if one looks hard enough, there are also some rather interesting culinary offerings that certainly will alter one's perception of what an industrial estate can be all about.

One of the flatted factory buildings which colour the Kolam Ayer Industrial Park.