A population size of 5 million, in a land size of 710 square kilometer, Singapore is one of the most densely populated country in the world and 4 out of 5 Singaporeans live in subsidised high rise public housing apartments known as HDB (Housing and Development Board) flats.
From the various HDB designs, starting from the 1960s till the modern public housing designs today, there were many changes from the floor size, facade and designs. However, there is a common element among the HDB blocks, a space for communal, leisure, recreational and cultural activities, that is commonly known as here as void deck, found under the HDB block on the ground level while the apartments start from the second level. Our beloved void deck is of historical and heritage significance that holds many different types of memories, thoughts, happenings for different Singaporeans.
Old concrete tables and stools of Dover Close Estate
Do you recall you memories at the void deck? Childhood memories? Teenager/schooling memories? How was it like? Close your eyes, recall and reflect, what comes to your mind when you were a young child? Playing with your friends? My memories of the void deck were a lot on playing, lots of fun without the hassles and pressures of the modern society.
Playing football with friends and kicking the football against the wall, staining the walls with football prints was our trademark!
Running around playing Police and Thief, jumping around on hop-scotch.
Playing Chinese Chess or checkers at the round stone table
Sitting and chatting with friends after school, before returning home to do our homework
Cycling under the void deck and towards other friend’s block to meet them at their void deck
Buying freshly baked loaf of bread at a regular timing of 5pm daily, from the uncle with his ratten basket at the void deck opposite my block.
Buying sweets, tidbits, ice cream, frozen ice dessert etc etc from our favourite mamak (local provision) store
Residents bringing down their pet birds to the communal space at void deck, at Blk 430 Clementi Avenue 3
The void deck did not just serve my childhood memories only, it was a common communal space for all Singaporeans.
Residents Committee gatherings, events, chit chat corners, leisure corner with television, bringing down their pet birds for gatherings
Only in photos & memories – void deck at Blk 39a Margaret Drive, Queenstown Estate
All these memories of the void deck held on deeply to me, I grew up there, with lots of fun and happy moments. There were of course, sad moments too, having to attend funerals. The void deck was and still is today, a great space and location for community, friendship and bonding activities. Embarking on a personal mission, my personal project to cover Old Places and void deck, I asked friends this question “What are your memories of void decks?”
Here’s a few quotes
I’ve always found it funny that we called our void decks, “Void Decks”, What does “Void Deck” even mean? Who coined such a term? In any case, “Void Deck” is something to me that is “Uniquely Singapore” (hi STB’s old tagline), because no where else in the world is the ground floor of a block of flats called a “Void Deck”.
To me, a memory of our HDB Void Decks are the old checker stone tables in the middle of the Void Deck, where the elderly hang out to play a game of checkers. Come to think of it, I actually have not seen anyone actually play checkers, but rather have only seen these elderly, with one leg propped on the stone bench, the other on the ground, sitting there eating gua zi, drinking a kopi-gao, and conversing in a dialect I don’t dare say I comprehend completely.
Another memory of our HDB Void Decks are the bird cages that adorn the “ceilings” of our void decks, where bird-lovers young and old bring their birds on a Sunday morning to share in the joy of a bird’s melodic song, or simply to say “my bird is nicer than yours”.
Daphne, early 20s
Void decks can be a reflection of happiness, or even the other extreme: the loss of a life. This is what makes our void decks special, a common space for Singaporeans alike to hold celebrations or to mourn for their deceased loved ones.
Charmaine, late teens
My memories of void decks are that it used to be more vibrant; it being the playground for kids, chatter zones for aunties and rendezvous for major festivities involving the HDB.
Andrew, early 20s
Different individuals with different backgrounds, they each have their own fond and interesting memories of the common void deck in Singapore’s landscape. Their thoughts and words showed what void deck meant to them, that I believe will resonate with you too! As economy and society progressed at such a fast pace, there were many changes to the lifestyle and activities from the past as compared to the current society today. The newer and modern HDB flats are differently designed and constructed, this the void deck below is a lot smaller than before. While those void deck at existing HDB estates, what was part of our childhood memories may not be there anymore. The bustling life of the void deck today is not like before in the older days.
Soon to be gone – Leisure corner at Blk 1, Rochor Centre Void Deck
Nevertheless, the void deck, it is uniquely Singapore, something that we can be proud of, an identity, space, icon that we created for ourselves. The void deck is not doubt a common space that encompasses historical, cultural, recreational, heritage and communal space for all Singaporeans from all walks of life. My memories of the void deck will remain in my heart forever, through the sharing of my void deck memories and thoughts, I am able to pass it on, the stories of our void deck in Singapore, to the present and future generations, and friends around the world too!
This blog entry is written in support of NHB’s third community heritage exhibition on void decks entitled “Our Void Decks, Our Shared Spaces.” The exhibition highlights the history and development of void decks in the HDB heartlands, their common features and uses, and their role in providing shelter, building community and promoting racial integration. The exhibition is currently on display at the void deck of Blk 2, Saint George’s Road for the month of April before travelling to Marine Parade and over void decks around Singapore.