Most of us think of the HDB void deck as a place to host celebrations such as weddings, and sombre events like funerals. But beyond these activities, you’ll be surprised at what you can actually find at some void decks in Singapore.
In this article, we’ll cover the most interesting things you can find in some of Singapore’s void decks, how you can book one, and the heartwarming story behind it.
The 5 most unique things you can find in HDB Void Decks
1. Art galleries featuring reproductions of work by Van Gogh and Picasso
For some HDB residents, the art gallery is just a lift ride away.
The void deck at Block 56 Pipit Road hosts Singapore’s first void deck art gallery. Completed in 2011, you can find reproductions of Van Gogh’s work, such as Sunflowers and Starry Night.
Not only did the gallery earn a Special Community Project Award for the MacPherson Zone C Residents’ Committee, but it also helped deter vandalism and littering in the area.
The project was carried out by arts charity Social Creatives, which has painted more than 200 murals in void decks around Singapore. Another HDB void deck art gallery done by them is at Blocks 749 and 750 Jurong West Street 73, which features Picasso’s cubism-style artwork.
There are HDB void decks that have hosted temporary art galleries as well. For instance, the void deck at Block 844 in Yishun Street 81 held a pop-up art exhibit in 2018 by People’s Studio, which showcased different art installations.
2. Bird singing corners
Besides Chinese chess and checkers, bird singing is another activity that’s commonly found in some HDB void decks.
In estates such as Ang Mo Kio, Bedok, Jurong West, Woodlands, and Yishun, you can find ‘bird singing corners’ at the void decks.
Bird owners often bring along their birds to hang out at these void decks, which are equipped with rows of horizontal rails and rings on which the birdcages are hooked onto.
Some rails even come with number tags attached to the rings, allowing residents to identify the birds in singing competitions.
3. Vending machines selling everything from chilli crab spaghetti to power banks!
Instead of mama shops, vending machines selling household provisions and hot meals can be found in some void decks.
In fact, Block 320C Anchorvale Drive in Sengkang is home to the first void deck vending machine cafe. Opened in 2016, it sells hot meals such as sandwiches, snacks, drinks, and seafood hor fun.
Vending machines have since popped up in other void decks as well, including the ones found at Block 143 Tampines Street 12. These vending machines have replaced a mama shop there, and dispense items like hair accessories, household provisions, and even chilli crab spaghetti!
Since these vending machines are open 24/7, they’ve made it more convenient for residents to buy common necessities like painkillers and food quickly.
4. Fresh groceries in community fridges
Over at the void deck of Block 441 Tampines Street 43, you can find two fridges and a freezer that’s well-stocked with fresh groceries.
While the groceries are available for everyone, the main intent of these void deck fridges is to help the needy. Through these fridges, the public can donate fresh food such as vegetables, meat, and fish for residents living in the rental Blocks 441 and 442.
5. A Mini Kampung!
There’s also a void deck that looks more like a kitchen and a living room.
At the void deck of Block 603 Yishun Street 61, you can find rice cookers, fridges stocked with fresh groceries, and a TV there.
Every morning and evening, residents will gather at this corner of the void deck to eat and chat. Some of them even bring home-cooked dishes to share with their neighbours.
The kampung spirit is strong here as well, as residents help one another to take care of their children. Plus, there are various toys available for the children to play with, such as a miniature slide and a foosball table.
To make it even more homely, the void deck features a mini garden with potted flowers.
How to book an HDB void deck?
Planning to organise an event at your HDB flat’s void deck? You’ll first need to go to your Town Council’s office in person to book the space.
Do take note that you must be a resident of the area in order to host a function there. The Town Council will charge the fees based on the duration of your event, as well as water and electricity usage. You can make bookings for up to 6 months in advance, and they are based on a first-come, first-served basis.
As an example, here are the charges for void deck usage under the Sembawang Town Council:
What’s the story behind the HDB Void Deck?
The story of how void decks came about isn’t something you’d expect.
Void decks first came into the picture when the late Law and National Development Minister E. W. Barker saw children getting wet in the rain. Back then, the ground floors of all the HDB blocks were occupied with flats.
So Barker suggested raising the HDB buildings up by one level to provide shelter for these children.
Plus, the ground floor units were starting to fall out of favour – they didn’t offer a lot of privacy, and ventilation was poor. These units were also in close proximity to refuse chutes, and pests found their way into the flats easily.
Since then, the HDB blocks built come with an empty ground floor.
Not only does it serve as shelter for rainy days, it also provides space for communal activities that allow residents to bond, be it through a game of Chinese chess or soccer.
And soccer wasn’t the only thing that children used to play at HDB void decks. Playgrounds were also available in void decks of HDB flats at Bishan, Tiong Bahru, and Tampines.
However, a fire accident at a Tampines void deck playground in 2005 prompted the town councils to move these playgrounds outside. Additionally, HDB has stopped allowing them to be built at void decks due to fire safety reasons.
Void Deck issues and complaints
As with most communal spaces, HDB void decks can come with their own share of problems and issues. For instance, the noise generated by functions held at void decks can be a source of annoyance for some residents.
In October 2012, a former assistant director of NTUC’s membership department wrote on social media that void deck weddings should be banned, due to the amount of noise they generated. She also commented that Malays experienced high divorce rates due to what she perceived as “low-cost void deck weddings”. She was subsequently fired from her position despite apologising for her insensitive posts.
Other recurring issues with HDB void decks include children and teenagers playing soccer, which can cause injury to residents, as well as damage to public property. Since then, some void decks have been installed with metal railings to discourage them from playing ball games there.
Residents can no longer ride their PMDs, bicycles, and power-assisted bicycles at the void decks. Due to the increasing number of PMD-related accidents, these vehicles are now banned at the void decks of 15 towns under PAP.
Despite all this, the HDB void deck is still an integral part of living in Singapore, and will be sorely missed should they be removed.
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