The Straits Times
Oct 7, 2010
A photography show at an upcoming arts festival takes a nostalgic look at 1970s HDB playgrounds
More than 10 of Mr Khor Ean Ghee?s (centre) playgrounds from the 1970s will be featured in the School Of Hard Knocks photography exhibition, put together by photographers Antoinette Wong and Stanley Tan (above). The showcase can be viewed at the Esplanade Tunnel and JCDecaux bus-stop shelters in the city. -- PHOTOS: BENJAMIN NG, LITTLE DROM STORE
When Mr Khor Ean Ghee designed playgrounds for the Housing and Development Board (HDB) in the 1970s, he never thought that his work would become landmarks in the Singapore landscape.
The 76-year-old tells Life! in an interview at one of the old dragon-inspired playgrounds in Toa Payoh Lorong 6: 'We wanted to create something that was distinctive. My boss said to me that all the buildings along Orchard Road were not designed locally. So at least, our playgrounds should be.'
Those locally designed playgrounds have etched themselves so deeply into the memories of Singapore children that they have inspired a photography exhibition.
The show titled School Of Hard Knocks is in tribute to the steel and concrete playthings and is part of the M1 Fringe Festival which is on from Jan 5 to 16.
The annual arts event, organised by The Necessary Stage, has Art And Education as its theme and will feature 19 performances from 10 countries, including nine ticketed and nine non-ticketed programmes. Tickets went on sale yesterday.
The School Of Hard Knocks exhibition, which can be seen at the Esplanade Tunnel as well as JCDecaux bus-stop shelters in the city, will be free. More than 10 of Mr Khor's playgrounds from the 1970s will be featured.
The people behind the exhibition are photographers Antoinette Wong and Stanley Tan. The couple, who also own Little Drom Store, a shop selling vintage knick-knacks in Ann Siang Hill, are just two of the many children who fondly remember the mosaic playgrounds with structures which took the shape of animals such as dragons, rabbits, penguins and tortoises.
'The playground would be the meeting place for my friends and me every evening and I have so many memories there,' says Tan, 29, who grew up in Pasir Ris, where there was an elephant-shaped playground.
The duo, who enjoy snapping pictures of old neighbourhoods, chose photographs for the exhibition from their collection of shots.
'In our explorations, we saw many things that are fast fading away and it's really enjoyable, even talking to owners of old bookshops which just sell mainly stationery,' says the 26-year-old Wong.
Through their exhibition, they hope to capture this slice of Singapore history that is slowly disappearing as HDB changes the form and functions of playgrounds over the years.
According to an HDB spokesman, playgrounds built in the 1970s and 1980s focused on functional play equipment.
That changed in the 1990s, when the HDB wanted to encourage greater interaction among children and their families. Combinations of play equipment were selected to enable children of different ages to exercise through physical play.
The focus is now on catering to the family. HDB installs play and exercise facilities for different age groups near one another, so as to meet the needs of different members in the family.
These newer playgrounds are also safer, with rubber floors instead of the traditional sandpits, and are made of plastic as opposed to concrete.
Wong notes: 'The playground is the place where we learnt through falling down. But these days, the playgrounds are so safe and parents are so protective. They say things such as, 'It's dangerous, don't do that'.
'When we were taking the pictures, we noticed no one plays at these old-school playgrounds anymore. I don't remember having to ask a kid to move so that I could take the pictures.'
The Necessary Stage's company manager Melissa Lim, who is also the festival manager, says: 'Perhaps we can also look at how we educate our younger generation, how the nature of their play has changed and re-look our sense of caution and insurance today as they do impact on our learning.'
The duo were commissioned by The Necessary Stage to put together the exhibition as their work fits the festival's theme.
Ms Lim adds: 'I knew of Stanley and Antoinette's work from some time back and had always liked their ability to capture elements that were fast vanishing from our landscape, not only with a nostalgic gaze but also with a mission to inform and educate their viewers about these same elements.'
For the photographers, the show is an opportunity to celebrate the character and charm of old playgrounds, compared to the newer ones.
'No matter where you go, it's the same old thing. We've lost a little of our identity, with the same safe playgrounds manufactured overseas, all over Singapore,' says Tan.
Ironically, the man whose works they are celebrating has no sentimental feelings about the same objects.
For Mr Khor, it is always about putting the children first: 'There were so many things to consider, such as whether it would be easy to maintain and whether children jumping on it would cause a lot of noise for the residents. But most importantly, I kept thinking about what the kids would like.'
He is matter of fact about the new-generation playgrounds imported from overseas: 'In Singapore, we don't have the capability to build the kind of playground equipment we import. Overseas, they have done it for so long, it is tried and tested and safe. It is a good thing.'
But Tan has the last word: 'Mr Khor doesn't know how much impact he has had on us.'
ANOTHER ME: TRANSFORMATIONS FROM PAIN TO POWER
Indian photographer Achinto Bhadra set out to document the experiences of women and children who were sexually exploited for commercial gains.
Together with a counsellor, he guided girls and women, aged between eight and 25, through sessions in which they talked about their personal histories and reimagined themselves as mythical beings. They were given props and costumes with which to transform their appearance during a photography session and the resulting 126 portraits are shown in this exhibition.
Where: Ion Art Gallery,Level 4, Ion Orchard
When: Jan 5 to Jan 16, 10am to 10pm
THE R.W. PROJECT
Swiss writer and avid walker Robert Walser's work, The Walk (1907), describes a poet's ambling and his observations of the minutiae of daily life. Le Collectif Quartre Ailes, a French theatre group which combines a variety of techniques such as animated images, shadow plays, songs and acrobatics, has adapted the vignettes for theatre.
Where: Esplanade Theatre Studio
When: Jan 5 and 6, 8pm
Admission: $19 and $30
WHAT DID YOU LEARN TODAY
This play co-written by Sean Tobin and Natalie Hennedige will star the husband-and-wife team of Lim Kay Siu and Neo Swee Lin. It will explore the role that education plays in everyday life.
Where: Play Den, The Arts House
When: Jan 13 to 15, 3pm
Admission: $19 and $30
AROMASCAPE OF SINGAPORE
Japanese artist Maki Ueda, who uses scents as her medium, will attempt to capture Singapore through its smells. The work will be created in collaboration with Singaporeans whom she will take on a tour around town to smell the city, from fragrant food stands to salty sea breeze to even garbage. She will capture their scent impressions for her show.
Where: Glass Porch, Level 2, Singapore Art Museum
When: Jan 5 to 16, 10am to 7pm daily except Fridays, 10am to 9pm
Playing with dragons -- Singapore's playgrounds of the pastRemember the days of sand, swings and slides? CNNGo hunts down the last few remaining playgrounds that haven't yet been usurped by plastic modern imports
By Justin Zhuang 30 March, 2010
A generation of locally designed playgrounds were demolished after they were deemed unsafe for Singaporean children. Here are the last few still standing.
Playing with a dragon? That’s no childhood fantasy, but what some Singaporean children growing up in the 1980s had as their playground. It was one of the many designed locally by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) for Singapore’s public housing estates. The design of these playgrounds were inspired by nursery rhymes and children’s games like 'Snakes and Ladders.'
There were also those that resembled common objects like fruits, fire engines and clocks. As part of nation-building efforts, playgrounds also reflected Singapore culture -- some were shaped as Chinese bumboats, attap houses and trishaws. By the late 1980s, as more public housing estates were built, playgrounds also reflected the history and geography of a location. For instance, those in Pasir Ris, which were built on reclaimed land, took inspiration from the sea.
However, a decade of local playground design came to an abrupt end in 1993. Just months after the local papers ran an exposé about the public playgrounds' poor state and lack of safety standards, a five-year-old boy got his thumb severed off while playing on a faulty slide. The boy regained the full use of this thumb, but that marked the end of the play areas. Foreign safety experts were flown in to inspect our playgrounds and they were declared unsafe.
A massive upgrading exercise was carried out. The once concrete structures in sandboxes were replaced with plastic modular ones sitting on rubber mats. The HDB also stopped designing playgrounds and bought them from international suppliers instead. Not only did they meet international safety standards, these playgrounds were cheaper to maintain.
Today, Singaporean children play in spaces designed like anywhere else around the world. As for these remaining old playgrounds, they will one day be erased in a city that never ceases to upgrade itself. Visit them before they disappear altogether.
The dragon design is so iconic of Singapore playgrounds that it was recently included in an issue of local stamps featuring playgrounds. This one is found along Toa Payoh Lorong 6.
This dove-shaped design debuted together with the dragon playground and this particular one is found in the estate of Dakota Crescent. Together, they marked the beginning of an era of locally designed playgrounds.
A clock-shaped playground design that is found near Bishan bus terminus. This is one of the many designs inspired by common objects.
Play amongst a pelican, rabbit and tortoise at this playground in Dover Vista Park