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Christina Ting void scape Rethinking Residential Public Spaces in Singapore.

abstract introduction History and essence of HDB housing Understanding the City

06 07 08-09

Understanding Public Housing The need for permanent and temporal landscapes Displaying Typicality of amenities in different districts Exploration of District

10-11 12-13 14-15 16-19

History of Singapore and its strong ethnic-based urbanity

visual studies Swarm Theory Transformative Processes in Design Dye Transformative Process

22-23 24-27

interventions Temporal Greening the plane


Mobile Seats


‘stick intervention’

Permanent Taming the public


public urination

Altering Topography


exploration of opportunities with alteration of topography


Water square - Rotterdam

Events of rain Precedent

Delancey Street - RAAD Studio

Cultural Renewal

46-47 48-49 50-51 52-53

Negotiating Ethnic Diversity and Multiethnic Living: Accommodation, Acceptance and Appreciation





Christina Ting Rethinking Residential Public Spaces in Singapore. How can social interaction within the community be enhanced through landscape interventions in and around void decks in Singapore’s urban residential estates?

abstract Singapore is densely populated, thus majority of its residents live in public residential estates where landscape is typified by “void decks�a local term used to describe the permeable ground floor of apartment blocks. Although initially planned to promote social cohesion within different demographics, the concept of void deck has not met its intended success. My research intent is to enhance community spirit in the public realm through a mixture of permanent and temporal landscapes. Majority of current development in the commercial district, such as the Integrated Resorts, are catered to the tourist and retail sectors; town centres in the residential neighbourhood are similarly focused on retail and commercial activities. There insufficient commercialised recreation spaces available to the public. Working with the existing conditions within the ground plane, the project is about designing for the residents living in the community, encouraging new possibilities to enhance the essence of the place while still allowing for existing social and cultural events to occur. Approaching design using different scales and techniques, the exploration of temporal visual studies and precedents informs the designs and form that are adaptable and constantly changing. The design aims to break out of the recurring concrete environment of the void deck and blend the boundaries within the public realm, while increasing social interaction in the community living within the housing estates.



History of Singapore and its strong ethnic-based urbanity

History and Essence of HDB Housing

Singapore in 1819, was economically successful as a trading post of the British East India company , due to its location, harbor and free port status. However, the success was not fully reliant on the British colonial government.

The formation of public housing was required due to the "relentless inflow of migration" (Ikuyo. 2008) contributing to an undesirable growth in population in Singapore. Housing conditions continued to deteriorate after world war 2. In order to solve housing crisis, Housing Development Boards was established to build as many flats to accommodate this people as well as incorporating "community development" (Ikuyo. 2008). It was an aspect that was important as people have built a "sense of community of their own by their daily contacts and mutual assistance" (Ikuyo. 2008). Therefore, to avoid disrupting existing local community of common and shared public spaces that were present in villages and kampongs, the rise of void decks and new towns were built to maintain that sense of community.

Asian communities contributed in the building of schools, places of worship, publishing newspaper etc, demonstrates the involvement in building of Singapore's society instead of "merely narrating the privileged lives of the Europeans"(Ikuyo. 2008).

Fig 01. Toa Payoh, 1964. (Copyright Housing Development Board)

After the Japanese Occupation, Singapore was determined for selfgovernance and after gaining Independence, begun to focus on a different form of economic emphasis; Entrepot Trade. Thus, the increase in the flow of migrants creating similar groups of migrants presiding within the urban landscapes. In order to focus on creating a bond and an identity among Singapore, through the implementation of void decks which are deliberately organized by the Housing Development Board to promote social cohesion within various ethnic groups.

Fig 02. Chinatown, 1953 (Copyright Singapore Press Holdings)

The modernising of HDB public housing, till today - with the change in "living standards, income levels and change in lifestyle of the general population increase" (Ikuyo. 2008), resources are being channelled towards public housing resulting in the improvement of housing quality as well as the idea of ownership of housing rather than the rental of public housing which is predominantly a western model where you required to be of "low income and are not able to find a suitable housing to rent privately" (Ikuyo. 2008).

Fig 03. Singapore’s first high-rise public housing, 1952

Fig 04. Toa Payoh New Town, 1960



Fig 05.

Understanding the City

Fig 06. centrepoint

Fig 07.


Fig 08.

orchard central

commercial district (author)

Landscape is typified by “void decks�- a local term used to describe the permeable ground floor of apartment blocks. Majority of the current development in the commercial district, such as the Integrated Resorts are focused on retail activities and the tourist market; city centres in the residential neighbourhood are similarly focused on retail and commercial act.

integrated resort

sembawang woodlands


lim chu kang sungei kadut western water catchment

choa chu kang

pioneer boonlay



central water catchment

ang mo kio


sengkang pasir ris hougang


jurong west tuas



bukit panjang jurong east

kallang clementi




geylang bedok marine parade

bukit merah

28 districts of which includes town centres within it (author)

chinese: up to 80% malay: up to 22% indian and others: up to 12%

Fig 11.

boon lay

ethnic groups in Singapore neighbourhoods

Fig 12. bukit

Fig 09. boon keng district

Fig 10. ang moh kio district

Fig 13. clementi


Fig 14. bishan

90% public housings with void decks under apartment (author)

Fig 15. typical

park connector

Fig 16. esplanade


Fig 17. bukit

timah nature reserve

Fig 18.

tree top walk

green space (author) Fig. 5-18


Photographers: Little Red Dot


Understanding Public Housing

Size Population

Singapore and Melbourne.

Understand the importance of the context of public housing in Singapore and how it differs from the public housings in Melbourne. In Singapore, public housing are prioritised where reseources are being channeled towards better standard of living. Home ownership are given to living in public housings rather than rental which is predominantly the western model. .


Density Average density people/km2

% public housings



5,076, 000






Public Housing Average rent per week in US$



Diagrams to understanding public housing in Singapore and Melbourne



the need for permanent and temporal landscapes

The current condition of the void decks are made up of temporal events such as the Chinese funeral and Malay wedding, which are one of the significant events that occur occasionally in the area of the void decks. Apart from such events, the void deck are utilized as a daily thoroughfare by residents; or as a waiting space; or for boys playing football; or for children playing catch; or for scribbling; or for vandalism on wall columns; or for painting murals on walls and amore. The most likely users of the space are the elderly people who are confined to the void decks, and this space does not provide with them the activities or events needed, other than chess tables. Children are provided with "playgrounds in every 8 blocks" (Chua 2011), which are made up of "artificial, soft spongy grounds" (Chua 2011) and younger generations are provided with community activities. This therefore gives the void decks a sterile and empty condition but at the same time, this is what summarizes the quality of space there is in the void deck. The idea of permanent and temporal landscapes being used in these spaces is ideal to create different options, excitement, innovation and creative events. The main intent of this project is to be able to provide the amenities above but at the same time not forgetting what the true essences of these spaces are like. "Balancing the old avnd new is difficult but definitely essential." (Ho, 2011) I would like to make these spaces a place where the past substance is still embedded into the idea, but at the same time incorporate these with new and ongoing events into the area to form my new proposal. This at the same time will encourage the current cultural events to occur and push for new possibilities to tran-

spire in and the surrounding areas of the void decks in the future. "the underground should be opened at night, after trains have stopped running. The passageways and platforms should be poorly lit with dim, blinking lights... the rooftops of Paris should be opened to pedestrian traffic by means of modification to fire escape ladders and construction of catwalks where necessary... public gardens should remain open at night... Everyone should have free access to prisons. They should be available as tourist destinations, with no distinctions between visitors and inmates..." (Situacionistas 56-57) Guy Debord speaks about bringing pleasure to individuals. In order to move away from the inflexibility of our programmed city, the idea of the situationists look into exploring the city by opening up places of experience, transforming it into a space that user can engage in and encourage participation in the urban environment. Using this analogy for design.

Fig 19. malay


Fig 22. chinese

Fig 25.


old folks exercising

Fig 20.

birthday celebration

Fig 23. chess


Fig 26. badminton

Fig 21. religious

Fig 24.

Fig 27.


hockey game

public urination

events in void decks



Displaying Typicality of amenities in different districts

Fig 30. housing blocks

2 3 1

5 4

1 Fig 31. town centre

2 Fig. 32 Park

3 Fig 33. residential + commercial

4 Fig 34. Playground

5 Fig 35. Community centre

6 Fig 36. market

1 Fig 38. town centre

2 Fig 39. Park

3 Fig 40. residential + commercial

4 Fig 41. Playground

5 Fig 42. Community centre

6 Fig 43. carpark

Fig 28. Toa Payoh District (Redrawn from OneMap -




Fig 37. housing blocks

6 1 2

Fig 29. Marine Parade District (Redrawn from OneMap -



carpark housing blocks medical institutes residential estates town centre residential + commercial park


Exploration of District

Legend boundary line





void deck/ housing apartments amenities under void playground

green space

Fig 45. site analysis

The conditions that make up the current void deck conditions are amenities existing such as schools, community centre, shopping mall, markets that are around the town area. Amenities under the void decks consisting of food kiosk, residential community centre, senior citizen centre. All of which are easily accessible from the apartment blocks, both by walking and driving as road network and carpark spaces are designed to be situated for easy accessibility to the housings.


63m 15m 90m

plan section

Fig 46. : dimensions of void deck/ apartment building



Legend carpark




void deck/ housing apartments



void deck/ housing apartments

void deck/ housing apartments

void deck/ housing apartments

community centre


amenities under void

shopping mall

boundary line

amenities under void




void deck/ housing apartments


playground school

void decks/ housing estates


amenities under void


Legend community centre shopping mall



carpark school


void deck/ housing apartments


Legend points of activation

points of activation

routes utilized

routes utilized

proposed routes

proposed routes

zones carpark

zones trees



void deck/ housing apartments


points of activation routes utilized




proposed routes


void deck/ housing apartments

void deck/ housing apartments

void deck/ housing apartments

community centre


amenities under void

shopping mall

boundary line

amenities under void





void deck/ housing apartments

routes utilized


proposed routes


playground school



amenities under void


Legend community centre shopping mall




Legend carpark




void deck/ housing apartments


amenities under void



void deck/ housing void deck/ housing apartments apartments routes utilized

points of activation

points of activation

points of activation

Legend routes utilized

Legend routes utilized

deck/ housing proposedvoid routes

void deck/ housing proposed routes

void deck/ housing proposed routes





community centre


apartments carpark

Legend routes utilized apartments

amenities under void

shopping mall

proposed routes

boundary line





traffic network/carpark school


amenities under void


Legend community centre shopping mall








Fig 47.: shadow and sun mapping shadow casted at different times create a pattern and changes the pattern of movement. It also shows that void decks are majority of the time dark, which is condusive as for shade. This analysis also helps in evaluating design based on condition of the sun and shade.


school void deck/ housing apartments

points of activation routes utilized proposed routes zones

routes utilized



carpark school

trees points of activation routes utilized


void deck/ housing columns proposed routes apartments boundary line amenities under zones vegetation void

Legend points ofvoid activation deck/ housing apartments routes utilized lawn proposed routes zones trees

community centre shopping mall

vo ap

community centre


shopping mall playground

amenities under void



void deck/ housing apartments



proposed routes



Fig 48. : site analysis-individual components




Swarm Theory Transformative Processes in Design

Starling Swarm analysis The swarming theory have been widely studied and used, from social and political patterns, software systems, the running of companies as well as the study of swarm in urbanism. An example of an urban project was done by Roland Snooks and Robert Stuart-Smith that uses “swarm logic to urbanism that enables a shift from notions of master plan to that of master algorithm as an urban design tool” (Snooks, 2009).

Rule o1: Avoid crowding local flock mates. Steer to keep a minimum distance

In their complexity in pattern, rules behind the system are as applied: The geometries generated by behavioural techniques of the swarm will be used as an exploraFig 49. : form transformed due tion of generating spatial forms, circulation and structures in creating permanent landscapes in to predator my design of the void decks, at the same time allowing for temporal landscapes to occur within the space, both existing and new designs. – Opportunities for unexpected events in the form of intervention that takes place and allowing for play to continue. In addition, further exploring the experimentation of spatiality through materiality, this enables the “understanding of form as a continuous process of formation” (kokkugia, 2009).


Rule o2: Align towards the average heading of local flock mates

Fig 50. : the swarm theory Rule o3: Cohere to the flock, move toward the center mass of local flock mates

Photo by: Richard Barnes


Dye Transformative Process

The experiment consists of mediums such as milk, food dye (4 colours) and liquid detergent, which would result in food dye reacting away from the detergent. The reaction of the mixture of dye colours are caused by the effect of soap molecules that breaks surface tension in milk. This theory is used as an envisioned outcome of the design intent of breaking tension of ethnic groups and enhancing social interaction. The molecules are all broken down and an overall mix of colours would be created at the end of the reaction. – design intent is to bringing ethnic groups together.





































Fig 52.: constant change over time

Exploration of time and transformation with one point of insertion directed into the medium. The result is predictable with with colours moving in one direction. Portraying current condition of the void deck with only a point of event planted into the site and the change is constantly similar.

Fig 53.: the effect of soap molecules that breaks surface tension in milk over time



This constant shift of colors by activating it at different points in the experiment depicts the idea of temporal landscapes at different nodes during different points of time in the void decks. In relation to the current condition of the detergent repelling the fats of the milk, portrays the scene of Malay weddings and Chinese funerals that don’t co-exist together. However, looking at it at a larger scale, the blending of colors through the reactions creates a beautiful image that is made up of a mixture of different ethnic groups interacting with one another.

Fig 54: experiment 02 - multiple reactors

This is seen as an intended vision of my design. How can the relationship between the intervention and the space are engaged in the void decks and how it is able to adapt and change overtime allowing for different cultural events to co-exist together.

Fig 55. displaying edge conditions and points of reactor 26




Altering topography

Lighting the plane


Stick intervention

mobile seats

public urination

Interventions intent of design temporal


social interaction reacting to existing conditions problem solving

Fig 56. diagram evaluating design intent





Fig 57.: scenario 01: without boundaries

Fig 58: scenario 02: activating boundaries

without any boundaries, it is seen that the movement of the ball travels from one end to the other . Similar to the situation of the void deck, where people just move through from one place to the other to get to their destination.

reacting towards scenario 01, a string is being used to create boundary, with the idea of it slowing the movement of people moving through a space. It also create territories by trapping people in a certain space, which my intent is not to segregate communities into territories but instead bringing people together.


Fig 59. : scenario 03: private/public

Reacting towards scenario 02, an attempt to create a semi - private space in a public realm. the test uses double sided tape, some balls are no doubt trapped on the sticky tape, some of which moves in and out of the realm of the tape. this test is an attempt to create a space where people can decide to be in a private or public realm, enabling them to interact with one another at certain point of time.


Greening the plane ‘stick intervention’


Intervention is generated from the experiment is made from tapioca balls and spaghetti. The design intent was to provide an experience which is spatially interactive, both physically and visually. In addition, setting up of boundaries to provide users with an extent of privacy and enclosure when they are in the space; and could also act as a screen for events such as the funeral and wedding .

density option 01

The iteration of the installation was to create an experience of running through a field of tall grasses. One of the reasons would be that the green scapes in Singapore were not allowed to be “wrecked” (Chua, 2011). Thus, I had like to bring about interaction with these green spaces, altering that perception, bringing an element of play into the intervention.

mobile structure

density option 02

The positioning of these interventions was explored through the difference in density, configuration and the consideration of the position where sunlight is, as it could provide shading in the external area of the ground plane. Exploring the use of a pseudo grass field in the void deck due to the lack of sunlight and transitioning into tall plantings in the existing green space.

Fig 60.model displaying density of intervention


main access points

density option 03

Fig 61. exploring structures of plant growth

Fig 62. exploring density interventions

Fig 63.outcome of intervention


Mobile Seats

The design intent for mobile seats is to encourage social interaction as the void deck is a space in its social sense where it’s “occupied, inhabited, negotiated, controlled and administered by the people in their various capacities as individuals or as formal and informal groups�. (Eng. 2009) The intervention allows for different configuration depending on each individual and how different groups of users would like to negotiate within the space of the void deck. The intervention is intentionally placed across pathways to obstruct people and manoeuvre them into the void deck and envisioning them to linger within the space. Spacing between these seats are placed a metre apart from columns and is clear from obstructions around the lifts to allow for daily thoroughfare to still occur within the intervention.

Plan Fig 64. mobile seats






Taming the public public urination

Public urination are seen taking place at corner walls of void decks and this have caused obvious discrepancies among people using the space. Therefore, the design intent is to provide more toilets that are available around the premises of the void deck. The placement and views from the lift lobby and people using the space as the thoroughfare are considered. Pathways are extended to prevent people from having to be of close approximity to the toilets. The design of the toilet includes a green wall faรงade which is sustained by urinal serving as fertilizer and water for the plants which are filtered by a water purifier. Green wall would be a distinct feature around the void deck as a way finding element for the toilets. Raised platform are also integrated under the void decks as waiting area and for shade.

Plan Fig 66. Toilet intervention

This design of the toilets and raised platform as waiting area and for shade would also be useful during events of funerals and weddings instead of having to use portable toilets. Raised platform can be used as stages during such events.

Section Toilet intervention Fig 65. Exploration of toilet configurations



Altering Topography exploration of opportunities with alteration of topography

The altering of topography on the relative flat ground plane of the void deck gives it a hierarchy and also exploration of more options for events to occur in the space. It could also alter the view from one end of the void deck to the other. During the process of design, ideas of catering the space for the homeless was also considered, designing a mobile platform where users are able to negotiate space within the topography, creating a private space for themselves. The iteration considered space for existing cultural events to take place in various areas. In attempt to connect the ground planes through some areas such as the carpark where people usually use it as a short cut to the next void space. With consideration of that aspect, the design intends to have a linking network through these spaces, by creating an overhanging platform across the carpark to bring about a new set of experience.

Fig 66 Variation 01 : in the event of Malay Wedding

Plan plan of areas where topographyis altered

Fig 67 Variation 02 : mobile platform to be altered by users


Section drawing users to the exterior part of void deck

Section linking public housing through carparks



Water Square Rotterdam

Like many parts of Rotterdam, the Oud Zuid district suffers from severe fl ooding, aggravated by climate change. Designers came up with the design for the watersquare, driven by the need to arrive at an engineering solution that also served as meaningful usable space for the public. The watersquare is located in the centre of each neighbourhood and consist two parts – a sunken sports field and a hilly play are which will serve as the town plaza as well as a neighbourhood park for the community. To release strain on the existing sewer system and reduce pollution of the waterways, rainwater and stormwater will be collected by a separate network of pipes into a central storage tank located in the watersquare during rain and storms. The water is cleaned and then released slowly into the plaza from a low point in the hilly play field, creating streams and brooklets for children. The “flood” area in the plaza increases with the size of the storm, varying between dry plaza, streams and “lake”, providing different spatial experiences for users during the different conditions of the year. These features act as temporary storage facilities, and water is then slowly released into the waterways later. When multiple and used over a larger area, these urban plazas – a vital part of individual town centres – can serve to release the overall strain on the sewer system and improve the quality of water entering the waterways. This example shows how a simple design-driven intervention can solve both engineering and social needs, and provide better quality urban spaces that are able to deal with climate change issues too.

Fig 70. dry condition/ regular rainfall urban plaza is used for recreational and communal activities

Fig 71. medium rainfall events (approx. 30 times a year) urban plaza + light rain = streams, brooklets and water playground rainwater is cleaned and collected in a chamber before releasing into plaza from the centre of the watersquare

Fig 72. heavy storms (approx. once a year) urban plaza + heavy storms = water storage basin max. capacity of 1,000 cubic metres collected from surrounding neighbourhood water will stay in the basin for no more than 32 hours


Fig 73. view of water square

Fig 74. Diagram showing how the watersquares can be interconnected within the city (Credit: Studio Marcovermeulen)


in the events of rain The strategy is an attempt to increase number of interactions between the number of possible interaction with water during rain events and moments after rain. At the same time, this solves issues of flash floods that have been occurring due to large drains which were unable to handle the in fluctuation of water. By altering topography, proposal of introducing water in the spaces allows for temporary catchment of water before releasing slowly into the soil for water recharge.

Fig 74. social interaction in void deck

The design also attempts to bring back an element of fun back in the older days where people lived in “kampongs� and fish in the nearby drains.

section Fig 75 : flood scenario



Delancey Underground RAAD Studio

‘Delancey Underground’ was an abandoned train-track which is revitalized into a park which aims to transform a “dark, dank and depressing destination” (Diane Pham. 2011) under the street into a “tranquil, pastoral setting” (Diane Pham. 2011) by lighting it up. This is done so by concentrating rays of sun using fibre optical cables and mirrors, redistributing it to other locations. Plant growth and the comfort of human are facilitated. At the same time, allowing for the use of photosynthesis to cultivate plant growth and filtering out harmful ultraviolet and infrared light with the system. Similarly to that of the void decks, through shadow mapping of the site, it is proven that the space is constantly dark and uninviting, although shade is provided to cater to the weather in Singapore. Growth of any vegetation will also be impossible. Through the study of the precedent, opportunities are able to be explored in the void decks, making the space more inviting allowing for more public purposes to take place.


Fig 76. : beneathe delancey street


Cultural Renewal Negotiating Ethnic Diversity and Multiethnic Living: Accommodation, Acceptance and Appreciation The diversity of multi-ethnic groups living in public housing lives in close proximity, sharing common spaces such as the void decks. Special occasions and rituals are practiced, both emotional and symbolic such as the Malay Weddings and Chinese funerals. Tensions can arise with the negotiating of space, testing ethnic impartiality of the community. Many times, Malay wedding and Chinese funeral can both occur at the same place and time in the void decks. Views on Malay Wedding negotiations of ethnic diversity and multi-ethnic living are heightened by proximity and space” “i have heard other say its noisy but i don’t hear it. I don’t mind. Live in this type of place, must get used to it. The wedding lasts only for two days, our Chinese funeral also lasts for about two days, about the same. What for get angry? What for complain”. (Ah Sin) Views on Chinese Funeral “At first astonished, felt angry. So much noise cannot sleep. Next day got to work isn’t it? Also so much ash. But after a while, accept it. Just shut window and go to sleep. Chinese got their own way. Living together, give and take. In Singapore, must accept each other’s way.” (Ali)

Fig 78: wedding settings

Cultural differences can cause behavioural awkwardness, however with “ethnocentrism and ignorance, there can be tolerance, acceptance and appreciation among others”.

carpark seats for guest walkway

lift access away from funeral


Fig 79. funeral settings


Fig 77. typical funeral configuration


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Websites: Chua, Edwards, BHC, NE, 1992. Public space: design, use, and management . Public space: design, use, and management , [Online]. 1, 69. Available at: rintsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false [Accessed 10 September 2011]. Inoue Ikuyo. 2011. A Singapore History Proposal: Finding Local Stories. [ONLINE] Available at: http:// [Accessed 10 September 11].

little red dot, (2010), little red dot photo stream [ONLINE]. Available at: dot/ [Accessed 23 September 11]. One Map. 2011. One Map. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 23 September 11]. Richard Barnes, (2011), Murmur [ONLINE]. Available at:π=10000 &s=0&p=1&a=0&at=0 [Accessed 19 May 11].

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bibliography Douglas, MD, 2004. Invention Intervention. Invention Intervention, [Online]. 1, 7. Available at: [Accessed 13 June 2011]. Ooi, Tan, GL, TW, 1992. The Social Significance of Public Spaces in Public Housing Estates. 1st ed. Singapore: Coronet Books Inc. Goh, Yeoh, BH, SA, 2003. Theorizing the Southeast Asian city as text: Urban Landscapes, Cultural Documents, Interpretative Experiences. 1st ed. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte Ltd Lynch, KL, 1962. The Image of the City. 2nd ed. England: The M.I.T Press. Calvino, IC, 1978. Invisible Cities. 1st ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Franck, KF, 2006. Loose Space: Possibility and Diversity in Urban Life. 1st ed. England: Routledge.



Christina Ting Concise ADR  

Christina Ting Concise ADR