In Singapore, blocks of Housing Development Board(HDB) flats make up much of the urban grain of the city. Community spaces are designed for; nothing is left to the imagination or to spontaneity.

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The speed at which urbanization and development has taken place in Singapore has had largely positive impact on the economy and quality of living on the whole. With these rapid developments, the government rushed to provide adequate high-density housing for its citizens, and in so doing, free up space for further intensification of industry and more housing.

In the 1960s, with the first high-rise HDB flats up, the Housing Development Board included with its design, areas where informal community activities could take place within each block, areas such as the void deck. These were largely successful at the time, with many existing communities of residents relocated from their kampongs to these flats together, and hence meeting up in such transition spaces within their blocks made common sense.

However, with the changes in time, the disintegration of the “kampong spirit”, people changing homes and relocating elsewhere, a changing population demographic, and a new generation of homeowners who did not belong to an existing kampong community, these urban dwellers start off without an original community to base their social relations upon. Furthermore, with changes in the quality of living, tastes and expectations with increasing incomes, effectiveness of the ‘traditional’ void deck in acting as a motivator of community bonding is questionable.

Understanding the Void Deck

Void decks are an everyday transition space for some 83% of Singapore’s population. With that in mind, and that pre-arranged and accidental meetings between neighbours whilst on daily routines helps foster a sense of community and belonging, the void deck becomes a focal point of community bonding, considering that any changes in the provision and design of such a space will have a substantial impact on the population.

Understanding the void deck entails a wider understanding of the daily life of residents, how the space is used as a transition space, a gathering space, an event space. The void deck is used on a daily basis as part of a route from the realm of the private home, to the domain of the public spaces within the town, and then to the wider arena of the city centre and workplace. It is also a place of gathering for residents,  and also an event place of celebration of weddings, as well as for mourning at funerals. The void deck acts as a physical transition space, but also as a space in transition that is supposed to act as a gathering space, and thus should morph with time to suit the changing needs of a growing population. 

One distinct feature of the void deck is how residents often set the stage for others to perceive their community. It is upon the daily spatial practices of people who loiter in the void deck, upon which the local community builds their impression, and activates the local community to gather in the void deck. Hence it is the ordinary acts of ordinary residents, on an ordinary day that makes up the community.  [1] For example, there are always the local housewives and elderly folk who loiter in the void deck to keep an eye on their children and grandchildren playing soccer in the surrounding green spaces, and this encourages neighbours with children to bring their children down to play as well. The void deck then acts as a facilitator, not of community bonding, but of providing shelter to these awaiting parents. Of course, understanding that these meetings may take place increasingly often, it may help with the facilitating conversation and hence to some extent, community bonding within the void deck; but the generator of this community bonding still is not the actual void deck itself.

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Generally, in today’s context, with the common “No Rollerblading, No Ball Games/Soccer, No Littering, No Motorbikes” sign in the void deck, often, the void deck becomes akin to a road junction, where people walk past one another, collect mail, park their bicycle, or take the lift, without actual activity taking place. Hence the void deck does not seem to act as a motivator of community bonding.

Changing Spatial Practices in the Void Deck

Over time, and with urbanization, changes in the uses of the void deck have also taken place. In terms of users, certain areas have experienced large numbers of foreign construction workers who loiter and take shelter in the void deck, sometimes even late into the night.

The effects of an aging population have also been observed in the void deck, with the falling numbers of usage of the standard round table in void decks, often used by the older generations for chinese chess, and how these community spaces have been upgraded over time to accommodate the change in focus for universal access.

However, actual physical design changes in the void deck seem rather limited in terms of catering to changes in population tastes and preferences.

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Future Considerations for the Void Deck

Community spirit is expected to be forged at centralized and planned facilities and spaces, such as void decks, but do such spaces actively and successfully encourage the development of such community spirit? Is this really capable of re-creating the community spirit that once existed on the ground and in the streets? Is there still a propensity to interweave social interactions? How will community spaces in public housing estates of the  future seek to encompass such spontaneous and informal community bonding spaces, that fulfill multiple uses within a city design; by designing for it, or allowing for the opportunity for it to be created by the community on its own through colonization of intentionally-crafted remnant spaces in new high-density modern cities?


[1] Ah Eng Lai, “A Neighbourhood in Singapore: Ordinary People’s Lives “Downstairs”” in Future Asian Space: Projecting the Urban Space of New East Asia, edited by Hee Limin, Davisi Boontharm, Erwin Viray, pp115-137, Singapore, NUS Press, 2012.

Teo, Peggy and Huang, Shirlena. 1996. “A Sense of Place in Public Housing: a case study of Pasir Ris, Singapore.” Habitat International Vol. 20 No. 2: pp307-325.

Yuen, Belinda. 1995. “Public Housing-led Recreation Development in Singapore” Habitat International Vol. 19 No. 3: pp239-252