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The vanishing void deck
Shared pavilions taking its place
The Straits Times - February 8, 2012
By: Tay Suan Chiang
SOME Woodlands residents were in a flap last week over plans to convert their void deck into a day-care centre for elderly folk.
Among other reasons, they said they would be deprived of a place to gather and hold weddings and wakes.
But the spacious void deck - a feature synonymous with public housing here - has actually disappeared in new estates such as Punggol and Sengkang.
New housing blocks in older housing estates such as Kallang, Buona Vista and Ang Mo Kio also no longer have these large common spaces.
Instead, these newly built blocks have lift lobbies and spaces too small to hold functions.
As an alternative, HDB has built 'precinct pavilions', a common space shared by several blocks, which residents can use to hold gatherings and events.
In some estates, gardens on the rooftops of multi-storey carparks also serve as gathering spots.
Even the space at newer blocks which still come with fairly large void decks is increasingly taken up by facilities such as childcare centres, social service centres and rehabilitation day-care centres for the elderly.
There are about 640 such void-deck facilities run by more than 230 voluntary welfare organisations and non-profit groups, according to the HDB.
Because of the presence of these facilities, 'there is a perception that the void deck has shrunk', said Mr Ashvinkumar Kantilai, president of the Singapore Institute of Architects.
Void decks were created in 1970 on the ground level of HDB blocks to provide space for residents to interact informally or hold activities.
In response to queries from The Straits Times, an HDB spokesman said yesterday that there are usually more void deck spaces for blocks in older estates because of the slab or rectangular block configuration there.
But newer housing blocks tend to have a tower block configuration. This means they do not have long corridors on each floor, and hence, there is less space on the ground level.
As an alternative space, the HDB has built precinct pavilions - usually around 200 sq m, or slightly smaller than the size of two five-room flats - shared by several nearby residential blocks. Low walls, which mark the periphery of a pavilion, double as seats.
But some feel that the single space, which has to be shared by residents from a few blocks, is not enough.
Kallang resident Garry Chern, 36, said: 'When there are two or more events happening in a day, that pavilion is heavily used, and sometimes, one party has to pack up quickly to make way for the other.'
He once saw an undertaker clearing the pavilion after a funeral in the morning, and another funeral being set up that same afternoon.
Having grown up enjoying large void decks, some residents bemoan the loss.
As a child, housewife Michelle Lee, 32, used to ride her tricycle in the public space at the foot of her block. Today, her toddler son cannot do the same at their Punggol block as 'there is no space'.
There is a pavilion near their home but it is a distance away, said Mrs Lee.
Dover resident Yeo Kai Leng, 37, used to live in a 30-year-old block with a large void deck. Her current block in the same estate has no such feature.
In the past, she would often bump into neighbours at the void deck of her old block, but no longer sees them now.
'I think they've stopped meeting for a chit-chat since there is no place for them to sit now,' she said.
MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC Hri Kumar Nair said that the smaller common space meant there is limited space to provide for permanent services, such as day-care centres. 'Only some blocks would be eligible for such services,' he said.
Yet for others, the void deck holds no special feelings.
Human resource consultant John Lee, 45, said: 'I don't use the void deck as, at the end of the day, I just want to get back to my flat. I'd rather have more lifts than empty void deck space.'