Void deck



Singapore Infopedia

by Koh, Jaime

Background

Void decks are the open spaces located on the ground floor of Housing and Development Board (HDB) blocks of flats.1 The first block with a void deck was Jalan Klinik Block 26 in 1963, but it was only in 1973 that it became the norm to keep the ground floor as an open space for residents.2 The void deck is generally defined by the structural columns of the block.3 Small kiosks selling sundry goods may be found in void decks, usually facing the lift lobby.4 Void decks serve as communal and social spaces for events and activities like Malay weddings and funeral wakes, and as polling stations during elections.5

Background
The void deck is one of two common areas found in a block of HDB flats; the other being the common corridor.6 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.7

The early blocks of flats built by the HDB in the 1960s also did not have void decks.8 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.9

The HDB made several enhancements and changes to flat design over the years. One of the design improvements by the HDB was to keep the ground floor free of flats so that the space could be used for “shops, hawkers’ centres, light industrial workshops, covered children play areas or car parks”.10

The term “void deck” did not always refer to the ground floor. In local newspapers in the late 1960s, “void deck” referred to the transition floor between the roof of the shopping podium block and the base of the residential block above the podium in mixed-use buildings of the era.11 This transition floor was used for playgrounds and other community facilities.12 Such mixed-use buildings were a new innovation in Singapore following legislative changes in 1967 that allow strata zoning.13 The first such building was Block 32 People’s Park, completed in 1968, and the early podium-and-block buildings were in the areas of Outram-New Bridge Road and Victoria Street-Beach Road.14

Even in 1973, the HDB in a Straits Times letter to the editor referred to the ground floor as a “void area”.15 Only in 1976 did the term “void deck” appear in the newspapers to refer to the ground floor of HDB flats.16

Functions and activities at void decks
Since 1969, the HDB has made a conscious decision to keep the ground floor of blocks free of housing units and only allow communal amenities such as kindergartens, childcare centres and senior citizens clubs.17 However, the lack of recreational space for HDB residents was brought up in Parliament the following year. In 1973, the Minister of National Development, E. W. Barker, made the decision to keep the ground floor of flats as open spaces for children.18

The term “void deck” was, however, not mentioned in HDB annual reports until 1977/1978.19

As a communal and social space, the void deck is used for various activities and events such as Malay weddings, funeral wakes, parties, and other religious and social functions.20

Void decks were first used as polling stations in the 1980 general election. Voters living in Ang Mo Kio, Bedok, Balestier, Clementi, Marine Parade, Telok Blangah, Tiong Bahru and Pandan Gardens could cast their votes at the polling stations set up in void decks. Residents welcomed the convenience as the polling stations were near their homes. Some also liked the “openess” because they could see what was happening at the polling stations.21

The HDB lets void-deck space to approved non-profit organisations providing social, welfare and community services.22 These include childcare centres, kindergartens, community homes for the aged, kidney dialysis centres and family service centres.23 Some neighbourhood police posts are also located at void decks.24 Locating centres established by voluntary welfare organisations in void decks enable their services to be more easily accessed by the community. Furthermore, void deck rents are much lower compared with commercial locations.25   

Related problems and issues
There are several recurring issues associated with the use of void decks. Some of these include the illegal parking and repair of motorcycles at void decks. Children and teenagers playing boisterous games at void decks create noise and cause inconvenience, and some of these games also pose a danger to residents.26 Another issue involves the illegal use of water from taps located at void decks.27 In 1990, the first coin-operated taps were installed in Bukit Purmei and Bukit Merah.28

The noise generated by activities such as Chinese funeral wakes and Malay weddings is a constant source of irritation for some residents. Many have proposed holding such activities at function halls, funeral parlours or other appropriate venues.29 Although residents are encouraged to use the function or multipurpose halls in the neighbourhood for such activities, many prefer the void deck for the convenience and accessibility it offers.30

In October 2012, Amy Cheong, then assistant director of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) membership department wrote on her Facebook page that void deck weddings should be banned because of the noise they generate. She ranted against the Malay community for their high divorce rates and linked it to what she perceived as low-cost void deck weddings. Although Cheong later apologised for the insensitive posts, she was eventually sacked by the NTUC for her racist remarks.31

Residents have also raised concerns over the use of void deck space for eldercare centres. In January and May 2012, residents in Woodlands and Tanjong Rhu respectively started a petition when they found out that the Ministry of Health was planning to build eldercare centres at their void decks.32 While most residents had no issue with the proposed daycare centres, those who opposed the idea argued that the plans were sprung on them and that they did not have details such as information on the possible traffic congestion and noise.33 The residents were also concerned that their flats would be devalued by the presence of the centres.34

In June 2014, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam announced that three wellness and eldercare centres would be established at void decks in Nee Soon in 2015. The centres would provide services such as day care and basic nursing care for the elderly.35

New void deck designs
In newer housing estates, the size of void decks has been considerably reduced, making them much smaller compared with void decks in the older estates. In these estates, the lift lobby area has also shrunk, and “precinct pavilions” – shared by a few residential blocks – and rooftop gardens have replaced the void deck as a common space for functions.36 In some new estates, void decks have merged with gardens and landscaped spaces around and in-between housing blocks.37 In others, void decks are no longer located on the ground floor. Instead, these have moved up the blocks – some up to the mid-level – and are integrated with sky gardens.38

While some residents lament the loss of the void deck as a communal space for play and interaction, there are others who are nonchalant about the change.39



Author 
Jaime Koh



References
1. Cairns, S., et al. (2014). Singapore’s void decks. In W. S. W. Lim, Public space in urban Asia (pp. 80–89). Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co., p. 81. (Call no.: RSING 307.76095 LIM)
2. Cairns, S., et al. (2014). Singapore’s void decks. In W. S. W. Lim, Public space in urban Asia (pp. 80–89). Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co., p. 81 (Call no.: RSING 307.76095 LIM); 
National Heritage Board, Singapore, Void Decks, Community Heritage Series 3 (Singapore: National Heritage Board, 2013), 3.
3. Cairns, S., et al. (2014). Singapore’s void decks. In W. S. W Lim, Public space in urban Asia (pp. 80–89). Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co., p. 81. (Call no.: RSING 307.76095 LIM)
4. Tan, K. J. T., et al. (1985). Physical planning and design. In A. K. Wong, & S. H. K. Yeh (Eds.), Housing a nation: 25 years of public housing in Singapore (pp. 56–112). Singapore: Maruzen Asia for Housing & Development Board, p. 76. (Call no.: RSING 363.5095957 HOU)
5. Cairns, S., et al. (2014). Singapore’s void decks. In W. S. W. Lim, Public space in urban Asia (pp. 80–89). Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co., p. 81. (Call no.: RSING 307.76095 LIM); HDB will add facilities to void decks. (1980, July 24). The Straits Times, p. 12; Void decks used as polling stations for first time. (1980, December 24). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Tan, K. J. T., et al. (1985). Physical planning and design. In A. K. Wong, & S. H. K. Yeh (Eds.), Housing a nation: 25 years of public housing in Singapore (pp. 56–112). Singapore: Maruzen Asia for Housing & Development Board, p. 76. (Call no.: RSING 363.5095957 HOU)
7. See the annual reports of the Singapore Improvement Trust for the years 1948 to 1959. Singapore Improvement Trust. Annual report. Singapore: Singapore Improvement Trust. (Call no.: RCLOS 711.4095951 SIN-[RFL]); Housing and Development Board. (2014, July 21). HDB history. Retrieved from HDB InfoWeb website: http://www.hdb.gov.sg/fi10/fi10320p.nsf/w/AboutUsHDBHistory
8. See HDB annual reports 1960–1977. Housing and Development Board. Annual report. Singapore: Housing and Development Board. (Call no.: RSING 711.4095957 SIN-[AR])
9. Liu, T. K. (1975). Design for better living conditions. In S. H. K. Yeh (Ed.), Public housing in Singapore: A multidisciplinary study (pp. 117–184). Singapore: Singapore University Press, p. 138. (Call no.: RSING q363.5095957 PUB)
10. Housing and Development Board. (1969). Annual report. Singapore: Housing and Development Board, p. 39. (Call no.: RSING 711.4095957 SIN-[AR])
11.  Multi-use buildings: first goes up in Chinatown. (1967, April 21). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Housing and Development Board. (1967). Annual report. Singapore: Housing and Development Board, p. 78. (Call no.: RCLOS 711.4095957 SIN-[AR])
13.Housing and Development Board. (1967). Annual report. Singapore: Housing and Development Board, p. 16. (Call no.: RCLOS 711.4095957 SIN-[AR])
14 Housing and Development Board. (1968). Annual report. Singapore: Housing and Development Board, pp. 72, 73, 75, 79, 80. (Call no.: RCLOS 711.4095957 SIN-[AR]); Choe, A. F. C. (2016). The Early Years of Nation-Building: Reflections on Singapore's Urban History. IN 50 Years of Urban Planning in Singapore, pp. 3-21. Singapore: World Scientific, p. 13. (Call no.: RSING 307.1216095957 FIF)
15. Yap, P. H. (1973, September 28). [Untitled]. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. ‘Use hands’ drive at Bedok Plain flats. (1976, June 13). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Tan, K. J. T., et al. (1985). Physical planning and design. In A. K. Wong & S. H. K. Yeh (Eds.). Housing a nation: 25 years of public housing in Singapore (pp. 56–112). Singapore: Maruzen Asia for Housing & Development Board, p. 76. (Call no.: RSING 363.5095957 HOU)
18. Housing and Development Board. (1969). Annual report. Singapore: Housing and Development Board, p. 39. (Call no.: RSING 711.4095957 SIN-[AR]); Tan, H. Y. (2009, November 14). The void that is alive. The Straits Times, p. 102. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Housing and Development Board. (1977/78). Annual report. Singapore: Housing and Development Board, p. 45. (Call no.: RSING 711.4095957 SIN-[AR])
20. Cairns, S., et al. (2014). Singapore’s void decks. In W. S. W. Lim, Public space in urban Asia. (pp. 80–89). Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co., p. 81. (Call no.: RSING 307.76095 LIM); HDB will add facilities to void decks. (1980, July 24). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Void decks used as polling stations for first time. (1980, December 24). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Of Medisave accounts, re-development and void decks. (1989, December 5). The Business Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Housing and Development Board. (1977/78). Annual report. Singapore: Housing and Development Board, p. 45. (Call no.: RSING 711.4095957 SIN-[AR]); Five homes for aged to be set up in two years. (1977, August 17). The Straits Times, p. 9; Co-op union to set up home for aged. (1978, September 3). The Straits Times, p. 7; Leong, C. T. (1989, October 31). New kidney dialysis centre is just a train ride away. The Straits Times, p. 21; Tai, J. (2013, March 16). 3 more family service centres on the way. The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Lee, J. (1997, September 15). Police presence “won't be affected”. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Shuli Sudderuddin & Tay, S. C. (2012, February 13). Void deck centres ‘benefit public’. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. M-cycles at void decks. (1988, March 17). The Straits Times, p. 17; HDB stern with errant m-cyclists. (1989, July 8). The Straits Times, p. 26; When HDB reminders don’t help much. (1977, February 10). The Straits Times, p. 16; 8 fined for illegal use of HDB void decks, public areas. (1989, August 6). The Straits Times, p. 14; Lim, S. Y. M-cycles at void decks: Regular checks made. (1997, July 25). The Straits Times, p. 52. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lee, M. G. J. (2013, September 3). Ball games at void decks a danger to lives, property. Today; Lukshumayeh, M. (2013, September 2). Allow ball games at void decks to promote healthy lifestyle, bonding. Today. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/ 
27. 8 fined for illegal use of HDB void decks, public areas. (1989, August 6). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Leong, C. T. (1990, September 4). Water on tap at the void deck – 20 cents a pail. The Straits Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Gan, K. L. (1990, February 14). Funerals in HDB estates a nuisance. The Straits Times, p. 26; Tng, S. G. (1990, February 26). Don’t allow live bands at void decks. The Straits Times, p. 22; Wedding feast leaves void deck in a mess. (1990, May 23). The Straits Times, p. 20; Wong, Y. L. (1996, May 27). Have special site for wakes. The Straits Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Foo, K. T. (1990, March 2). Residents urged to hold events at function halls. The Straits Times, p. 32; Rohaniah Saini. (1990, May 15). Void decks ideal but keep the noise down. The Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Teo, X. W. (2012, October 10). Swift sacking a difficult decision: Lim Swee Say. Today; Amy Cheong says sorry for Facebook post. (2012, October 8). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
32. Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh. (2012, May 10). Not in my void deck. The New Paper; Residents upset over planned elder day care centre. (2012, February 1). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
33. Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh. (2012, May 10). Not in my void deck. The New Paper. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Tai, J. (2012, February 11). Plans for Woodlands eldercare centre to proceed. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Residents upset over planned elder day care centre. (2012, February 1). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
35. Poh, E. (2014, June 2). Three elderly wellness centres to open in Nee Soon. Today. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
36. Tay, S. C. (2012, February 8). The vanishing void deck. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Heng, L. (2013, August 30). More space, less void. The New Paper. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; The environmental deck. (2009, November 14). The Straits Times, p. 103. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38. Tan, H. Y. (2009, November 14). The void that is alive. The Straits Times, p. 102. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39. Tay, S. C. (2012, February 8). The vanishing void deck. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.




The information in this article is valid as of 27 January 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


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