The playground and open-air theatre at the park in Hong Lim Green, which was opened by Minister for Culture S Rajaratnam on 23 April 1960. (c. 1960s. Image from National Archives of Singapore)
Playgrounds of the Past
As Singapore progressed through the nation building years, the public housing landscape underwent a complex transformation. Former Singapore Improvement Trust’s low-rise 4-storey housing blocks gave way to the Housing and Development Board’s modern 30 to 40-storey high clusters; common play areas in the estates evolved, as playgrounds went from simple swings and see-saws in sandy pits to thematic plastic play sets on rubberised mats.
HDB playground prototype drawings with types A, B and C. When Mr Khor Ean Ghee was tasked to design playgrounds for HDB estates, the interior designer had no training in playground designs but took inspiration from our local identity. HDB built many of these locally-designed playgrounds in the 1970s and 1980s before it started to import modular playgrounds from overseas suppliers in the 1990s. (c. 1970-1979. Image from National Museum of Singapore)
This is a set of HDB playground protoypes from Mr Khor Ean Ghee. These are his personal copies. Mr Khor is the designer of the first playgrounds found at HDB estates such as the iconic dragon and pelican playgrounds. (c. 1970-1979. Image from National Museum of Singapore)
As more high-rise compounds were built, fewer large open play-spaces for children were available. Hence, more playgrounds were needed for the young population growing up in these estates. For every 600 to 800 HDB homes, one playground was planned to cater for the residents. Concrete playground structures were designed and built in the 1970s to replace the older basic functional swings and merry-go-rounds. These playgrounds would feature geometric designs or animal and fruit shapes. Some of these playground designs also paid tribute to the estate’s place history. For instance, the fruit playgrounds at Choa Chu Kang and Tampines were reminders of the area’s former fruit farms.
A prototype drawing of the dragon playground by Mr Khor Ean Ghee. (c. 1970-1979. Image from National Museum of Singapore)
The dragon playground at 28 Lorong 6 Toa Payoh. In 1979, HDB started to introduce playgrounds with local designs and Asian symbols to convey a stronger sense of identity. One such design was the iconic dragon playground. The dragons typically had heads decorated with terrazzo tiles, a spine of steel rails as well as attached ropes and tyre swings. (c. 2015. Image from ghettosingapore.com)
Take a virtual tour of the dragon playground at 28 Lorong 6 Toa Payoh.
A dragon playground near Bedok Fitness Park. (c. 1982. Image from National Archives of Singapore)
A dragon playground in front of Block 571 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3. In 1979, HDB started to introduce playgrounds with local designs and Asian symbols to convey a stronger sense of identity. One such design was the iconic dragon playground. (c. 2015. Image from ghettosingapore.com)
Many of these playgrounds of the 1970s and 1980s were the work of former HDB in-house designers like Mr Khor Ean Ghee. In the 1980s, thematic designs emerged and it was common to see playgrounds centred on themes of dinosaurs, fairytales and nursery rhymes.
Children playing at the playground of the HDB estate at Bedok Reservoir Road. (c. 1984. Image from National Archives of Singapore)
The dove playground at Block 10 Dakota Crescent still retains its original sandy pit. The dove is linked to a pyramid structure with an elevated steel bridge while rubber tyre swings hang below. (c. 2015. Image from ghettosingapore.com)
By the turn of the 1990s, HDB outsourced playground designs to architectural consultancy firms. With more safety guidelines kicked in, sandy pits soon gave way to rubber mats. Concrete structures and mosaic tiles were replaced by plastic modular playgrounds, which were considered to offer safer and more hygienic conditions for children. Family bonding also became the directive in the 21st century and modern playgrounds were integrated with fitness areas. This ensured that the common space catered for a multi-generation experience for families.
Today most of these playgrounds found in housing estates are standard plastic play-sets with rubber mats. There are fewer than 20 playgrounds of the past to remain, making them a cherished play entity from our yesteryear.