Common View within the Void Deck

The ‘common’ void deck, when not in use for large public events such as funerals or weddings, is largely a long cuboid hall; except for the columns or walls at every 6m interval.

How this space is constantly transforming between different usage for recreation, weddings, funerals and other uses, is a result of the flexibility that the undefined space of a void deck permits. The ambiguity of space in this context, allows for users to define it in a context specific to their use for a duration they determine.

The importance of the void deck is often overlooked, seeing as many have been converted to specific functions, such as kindergartens, dialysis centres and eldercare services. However, it must not be forgotten that such semi-public spaces, or liminal spaces, are needed for people to express themselves beyond their homes and to forge social contracts with others.

As mentioned by Mr Michael Kimmelman, New York Times chief architectural critic, ‘  “People sought out public spaces to be with other people. They gathered in clusters to reveal themselves to themselves and to prove that they were part of a larger community,” he said. This reaffirmation of belonging to a community is something that will always elude online communication, he contended.’

This was in response to people leaving piles of flowers in a New York City park in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack.


Collage of spontaneous activities occuring within Zuccotti Park

Another example raised was the Occupy Wall Street movement which took place at Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, in which people reclaimed a park, for the Occupy Movement. The focus here is how these New Yorkers, common people, reclaimed seemingly public space for their movement, and in the process converted an undefined space for different uses. Communities sprouted within these tents, despite people being complete strangers with only one similarity – their commitment to the movement.  As part of the movement, tents were erected in the park, and these tents were complete with amenities and public services such as first aid corners, canteens and even libraries. These amenities were provisions not by any management, but by the people on the ground, random strangers who participated in the movement, who spontaneously initiated the creation of such public services.


User-initiated Library in Zuccotti Park



These examples raise one key question:  Is it necessary for community spaces to be planned?

As has been seen, the tight regulations with regard to usage of void decks – the need for advance booking, no cycling, no rollerblading, etc. – maintain order, but at the same time also prevent any form of reclamation or user-led conversion of spaces in the void deck, preventing personalisation and hence identity within the void deck.

Has this approach encouraged community interaction or bonding?

As can be seen from the 2 examples above-mentioned, with the personalisation of spaces by people for people, an identity for the community begins to take shape. Social capital is utilised to draw up social contracts between strangers, and hence form not just economic but also social linkages within a group of people. More importantly, the colonisation of the park for a community space is an oxymoron to begin with, since a park is naturally assumed a public space for the use of the community at large, hence the conversion of a convertible public space from public to a personalised one has allowed for an identification amongst strangers and even visitors, to the community within this movement, despite that the fact that a park in actual fact is a defined space.

The important question then is, defined vs undefined, planned vs unplanned/ambiguous, which spaces would be a better generator of community bonding?

Relating back to the local context in the void decks of public housing estates; with the developments of more and more dedicated functions within the void deck, the public housing system seems to be attempting to do away with the void deck in order to intensify use and multiply the usage of spaces under HDB flats to utilise spaces for community related services. However, these services may be too specific to a certain target group (eg. kindergarten for young families), and thus may not provide for the needs of the average resident. Hence it is important for authorities to consider the importance of, and the relationship between the need for ambiguous unplanned spaces such as the void deck, and planned facilities such as kindergartens, dialysis centres and eldercare services. Further to this, perhaps part of the consideration should also be to allow for more uses of the void deck by residents, not limited to funeral wakes or weddings.




News Articles:

Dorie Baker, NYT architecture critic avers: ‘We need ambiguous spaces’



Research Papers:

Katherine Sullivan, Occupy Wall Street: The Liminality of Zuccotti Park






Image Credits: