The Vintage Mosaic Playgrounds of Singapore

There are a series of urban playgrounds in Singapore surfaced with square mosaic tiles more reminiscent of bathtub than a playspace; a unique material I haven’t seen applied anywhere else quite in this way.

This past January they were the subject of a photography exhibit called “School Of Hard Knocks” by graphic designer Stanley Tan and his wife Antoinette Wong, owners of the Little Drom Store, who started  started taking pictures of the playgrounds about four years ago. They were designed by Mr. Khor Ean Ghee of the Singapore Housing and Development Board (HDB) in the 1970s.  Now 76, he said in an interview that ‘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.’

He doesn’t elaborate on why the mosaic tile technique was chosen, but I hope it won’t be lost…newer playgrounds in Singapore should honor this special local tradition.  Tan regrets that now “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.”

Justin Zhang of CNNGO points out the reason:  “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’s thumb was severed 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, which were subsequently declared unsafe.  A massive upgrading exercise was carried out. 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.”

To celebrate these unique places, the Little Drom Store made playground pins depicting the distinctive structures (I love this idea…the world needs more playground jewelery!)  There’s a tiny mosaic dragon, and an elephant, a pelican and a watermelon….all available on their website.

[First two images by Justin Zhuang for CNNGO, others from the Little Drom Store.]

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