The ubiquitous playgrounds in HDB estates have evolved from being just simple play areas into vibrant civic spaces and iconic landmarks.
Playgrounds bustling with energy from young children are a familiar sight in Singapore's public housing estates. Walk around and you will find playgrounds in all forms – from giant creatures and fruits created out of concrete tiles to family playgrounds incorporating fitness corners.
More than just adding colour and bustle to the HDB heartland, these playgrounds are also shared social spaces that promote social bonding between family, friends, and neighbours. With the changing playtime needs of children over the years, public playgrounds have evolved in their form and function.
5 Key Eras of HDB Playgrounds
1960s – early 1970s: Basic Play
The earliest playgrounds comprised basic play structures such as slides, swings and see-saws. Made mostly of steel and timber, they served as a communal node for children of all backgrounds to gather over play.
Mid-1970s – 1980s: Concrete Playgrounds
Between the mid-1970s and 1980s, playgrounds took on more elaborate and creative forms, inspired by our heritage and culture. Made mostly of concrete, they comprised designs such as animals, fruits and vegetables. The Dragon Playground is the most notable design from this era, and remains a cherished icon today.
Along with these, HDB designed a series of playgrounds based on nursery rhymes, including childhood favourites like Humpty Dumpty and the Shoe House. There were also others, such as the Snake and Ladder playground based on the popular board game, and the Petrol Kiosk, Fire Engine and Clock playgrounds based on common everyday objects that children could easily identify.
1990s: Proprietary Play Equipment
In the 1990s, proprietary play equipment was introduced into our playgrounds. Featuring a combination of structures designed for imaginative play, they allowed a large number of children to play together, thus encouraging greater interaction across various ages. With parts designed by play equipment specialists, these new playgrounds also met new safety standards and were easier to build and repair.
2000s: Family Playgrounds
In the 2000s, with the focus shifting to the needs of the whole family and not just the children, HDB introduced the family playground, or 3-Generation (3G) Fitness Corner. With play and exercise equipment located side by side, everyone in the family could enjoy some play time together.
Today: Thematic Playgrounds
In 2016, HDB embarked on a new generation of playgrounds in new housing projects. These playgrounds are designed to enhance the children's play experience while reflecting the history and heritage of the town. Novel play features have also been incorporated to help build closer bonds between friends and family.
At the Keat Hong precincts in Choa Chu Kang, military-themed playgrounds pay homage to the army camps that once occupied the sites. In these distinctive playgrounds, children can enjoy playing around watch towers, trucks and even 'drive' a military tank.
In Sembawang, children can set sail on a thrilling voyage aboard a ‘double-decker ship’ anchored at the playground near Blocks 121B and 121C Canberra Street. Inspired by the town’s past as a naval base, it features rope ladders and rubber flooring designed to resemble the sea and shore. Stilt-like climbing structures with netting hark back to the kelongs (fishing jetties) which used to dot the area.
At the playground at Toa Payoh Crest precinct, children can re-create the experience of wading through the swampy area that Toa Payoh used to be. Located in front of Block 131 Lorong 1 Toa Payoh, the playground features raised mounds creatively designed to resemble stepping stones in a ‘big swamp’.
Woodlands, once a heavily wooded area, was also home to many common insects. Today, giant insects come alive at the playground at Woodlands Glen, echoing the area's richness in bio-diversity and forest-like appearance in Singapore's early days. Find these enormous critters between Blocks 573B and 573C Woodlands Drive.
HDB playgrounds are an important source of our collective memories and identity – many of us hold fond personal memories of our childhood playgrounds and the friends we made there. Today, local designers have caught on the love for these memorable places and created heritage-themed merchandise. The Dragon playground at Toa Payoh, which has won the hearts of many, is perhaps the most common motif.
For the first time, HDB collaborated with the National Museum of Singapore on an exhibition on the development of Singapore's playgrounds. Held in 2018, 'The More We Get Together: Singapore's Playgrounds 1930 - 2030' took visitors on a journey that chronicled the evolving role of Singapore's playgrounds and explored the possibilities for future spaces of play.
Let's Build Our Playground Together!
Not only are playgrounds becoming thematic and more imaginative, residents can have fun in building some of them too. Singapore's first community-built playground, Adventure Playground @ Canberra at Sembawang Close, was co-created with the community and residents living there.
Under the Build-A-Playground (BAP) initiative, HDB transformed an open plot of land into a treehouse and kelong-inspired playground. The design of the playground, mooted by the residents themselves, reflects the heritage of Sembawang, which used to be home to fishing villages and jetties. Canberra residents, especially younger thrill seekers with a penchant for adventurous and interactive play equipment, also suggested the components that made up the playground. The eventual playground was completed with the help of residents who added the finishing touches.
With the successful completion of the pilot BAP project, HDB will be expanding the initiative to 4 other HDB towns – Choa Chu Kang, Pasir Ris, Toa Payoh and Woodlands – to offer residents opportunities to co-create their estate’s unique playground.