How many of you have spent hours of your childhood playing in these sand-based playgrounds with local-styled designs? Many of them, built in the late seventies, are the works of Khor Ean Ghee (born 1935), Maria Boey, Lee Kwee Wah and Chew Chek Peng, the former in-house designers of the Housing and Development Board (HDB).
The memories of these playgrounds are precious to a whole generation of Singaporeans born between the seventies and eighties. Today, most of them were demolished, with only a few of them forgotten in the corners of the old estates. It is a matter of time before they vanish and be replaced by the new plastic playgrounds with rubber mats.
Deemed safer and more hygienic for the children, the new playgrounds have been installed all over the island since 1993. But their designs, which are almost identical to one another, seem to be lacking of some local elements.
Arguably the most iconic locally designed playground, there are currently only four dragon playgrounds left in Singapore. Two can be found in Toa Payoh, one in Ang Mo Kio and a small one is located at Circuit Road.
The majestic dragon playground along Toa Payoh Lorong 6 still retains its originality with its sand box, while the other two dragons have been refurbished with rubber mats. With ladders, slides and a long metal body, it is ideal for the training of kids’ agility and their adventurous spirit. Not forgetting it is also a perfect place to play catching or police and thief.
Most of the dragon playgrounds were built between 1979 and the early eighties, and last slightly more than a decade before phasing out.
Pelican, Tortoise and Rabbit Playground
This is another iconic representative of local playgrounds. The pelican, tortoise and rabbit playground were once commonly found in many neighbourhoods. Today, only one is left standing at Dover Road, awaiting for demolition this year.
The pelican, covered with blue or red mosaic tiles, was like a mini fortress for kids, allowing them to climb through the hole to the top, or they could simple lie inside its “beak”. This playground used to be accompanied by a set of swings and a merry-go-round.
Vintage Animals Playground
Without any movable parts, this vintage playground is simply made up of stone structures in the shapes of duck (green), elephant (green) and horse (blue) where kids can ride on them. Likely to be built in the early seventies, its simple design reflects the innocence of that era. Located at Toa Payoh Lorong 8, it has brought joy to countless children of yesteryears.
Until the mid-nineties, Bukit Merah still retained a set of these colourful vintage animals.
Another design by Khor Ean Ghee in 1979, this dove playground is still around at the sleepy estate of Datoka Crescent. The concrete dove is linked by a metal bridge to a pyramidal structure fitted with rubber tyres as swings underneath.
The other remaining Dove Playground in Singapore, now refurbished with rubber mats, is situated between Block 219 and 230 at Bukit Batok. There is no bridge linked between the dove and the pyramidal structure.
Clementi used to have the dove playground too, but it was demolished many years ago.
At one end of the Pasir Ris Park, an elephant-themed sand-based playground is situated within the compound of the Home Team (NS) Pasir Ris Chalets. Also being built at the same period as the dragon, pelican and dove playgrounds, it still looks relatively new, probably due to its isolated location where few children, other than the chalet tenants, will visit.
With no duplicated design elsewhere in Singapore, the elephant playground with its trunk acting as slides is an unique piece of work on its own.
A small sparrow-shaped playground sits quietly at Clementi central, between West Coast Town Council and Block 444. A large part of Clementi central has gone through a major facelift in recent years, except for this area. Most of the tenants and residents here have already moved out, and the demolition is expected to be completed by mid-2012.
Currently there are two watermelon playgrounds in Singapore; the one at Pipit Road is sand-based (near the baby dragon playground mentioned above) whereas the other at Tampines Central Park has been refurbished with rubber mats.
Creatively shaped like a slice of watermelon, the playground structures are decorated with red, white (or yellow) and green mosaic tiles to resemble the flesh and skin of a watermelon. There are also holes on the walls to represent the melon seeds.
The mangosteen playground is just 20m away from the watermelon playground at Tampines Central Park. It consists of two giant purple mangosteen-shaped domes linked together by a thick horizontal bar. The swings attached to the bar were removed years ago.
The pineapple playground is one of the three fruity-themed playgrounds at Tampines Central Park, but it is also the only one that has been torn down recently in 2009/10.
Wonder why there are no playgrounds in the shape of durians, the unofficial national fruit of Singapore?
Located at Bishan bus interchange, the clock playground looks like a page out of a fairy tale, with colourful appearance and bold curvatures. It is likely to be built in the early eighties together with the bus interchange when Bishan was being developed into a new town in 1982.
Another similar clock playground once stood in Pasir Ris. Somehow the numberings of the clocks were missing.
Sampans used to be a common sight at the Singapore River in the old times. The idea was being incorporated into the design of this unique playground near Pasir Ris’ Elias Mall. “Eyes” and tyres are also added, making it looks just like a real sampan.
Another brilliant design modelled after a significant local transport of the past, this rickshaw playground, however, was no longer around found in Singapore. In the nineties, there was one with two huge red wheels outside Yishun Town Council at Block 845.
Certainly an innovative yet weird design for a playground in Singapore, the dinosaur playground at Kim Keat Avenue is built in 2000. The structures are shaped after two tyrannosaurus and a stegosaurus. Daring kids can attempt to climb up the back of the mother tyrannosaurus.
At Fu Shan Garden of Woodlands Street 81, there is also an old dinosaurs-themed playground. The main characters here are two ouranosaurus and the long-necked brontosaurus. Children can slide down in between these prehistoric creatures made of stones.
Crocodile and Kangaroo Playground
This was one fierce looking crocodile at the SunPlaza Park along Tampines Ave 7. Built in 1998, it was torn down recently and replaced by a new plastic playground. There used to be a kangaroo beside the crocodile too!
Teapot and Mushroom Playground
The teapot and mushroom playground was an award-winning design built at Woodlands Vista Park in 2001. It was done by the same design company that also created the Kim Keat dinosaur playground and the crocodile playground at Tampines. However, the teapot structure was replaced by a new plastic playground while the two mushroom seats are retained.
One of the most popular playgrounds among boys in the early nineties, the design of this playground is mainly made up of horizontal and diagonal metal bars, completed with two slides, swings and see-saws.
There is only one such playground left in Singapore today, standing inside the restricted compound of a HUDC (Housing and Urban Development Company) private estate called Lakeview Estate at Upper Thomson Road. (Editor Note: The photos are kindly provided by a reader named George Wong who has fond memories of this type of playground)
One of the favourite games that kids used to play in this playground was perhaps “catching”, or “police and thieves”, where the game was made difficult by having a rule that no one could come in contact with the sand, or he would be penalised.
As the height of the highest level was more than 3m, it could be quite dangerous for any kids to climb to the top. There were cases of children badly injured after falling off the bars, thus it is no wonder that this design was also being phased out like other local playgrounds.
In the nineties, there was a playground of the same design located near Yishun Avenue 6, and another situated at Block 144 Silat Road.
The interesting tilting train at the adventure playground is the product of an upgrade of the Tiong Bahru Park in 2000. Tiong Bahru Park was set up in 1967 to serve the residents of Tiong Bahru, Hendersen, Bukit Ho Swee and Bukit Merah.
Swings, See-Saws and Merry-go-rounds
Swings, see-saws and merry-go-rounds used to be integrated parts of local playgrounds. Due to safety concerns, they were slowly phased out, especially the large metal merry-go-rounds. Swings are still commonly seen but the wooden see-saws are a rarity nowadays. Below is a standalone set of swings at the junction of Jalan Kayu and Yio Chu Kang Road.
How many of you were ever bullied by some plump heavy kids who would sit on one end of the see-saw, leaving you suspended in the air at the other end? The old see-saws used to be made of long wooden planks, unlike the short ones found at the watermelon playground at Pipit Road.
Only three merry-go-rounds are left in Singapore. There is a yellow one at Tiong Bahru’s train playground, a large original type at the sleepy estate beside Begonia Road and the one at the Upper Seletar Reservoir has a non-traditional design.
Many of us will not forget the giddy sensation on a merry-go-round, where the naughty ones would frighten the others by pushing the merry-go-round at very high speed. For the kids, it was such an exciting yet dangerous experience.
Playgrounds Then And Now
The history of local modern playground goes back to more than 60 years back. It is interesting to see how the designs of our local playgrounds have changed over the decades.
A large part of the population still lived in kampong during the fifties and sixties so playgrounds were usually installed in the downtown. The playground at Hong Lim Park had monkey bars, a slide and a merry-go-round.
Swings and see-saws were the main attractions at this former playground located at Aliwal Street, near the former Chong Cheng/Chong Pun Primary Schools and the old Kampong Glam Community Centre.
A popular playground for many kids and students in the sixties, there were also public basketball and badminton courts nearby. The playground was prone to flooding during heavy storms, but that did not stop the playful children who would play with paper or wooden boats in the pools of water. Kite-flying was one of the favourtite pastimes for the teens in a hot sunny day.
The Aliwal Street Playground had since been torn down ages ago and replaced by an open-air carpark today.
When new towns were developed, playgrounds became essential facilities. This one was part of the estate when Toa Payoh was built in 1968.
Stunts of yesteryears would probably be deemed as too dangerous for kids today. In the past, bold boys and girls had no problem climbing up and sitting on bars 2m tall.
The local flavoured designs by Khor Ean Ghee from the seventies to eighties would probably go down as the representatives of playgrounds in the history of Singapore.
Moving into the nineties, beside the complete makeover in the designs of playgrounds, the materials used also switched from concrete to mainly plastic.
As the society progresses, what will the next generation of playgrounds look like? When they grow up, will our children have fond memories of their childhoods spent at the playgrounds? Only time will tell…
Last but not least, this is a modern playground in the abandoned estate of Neo Tiew.
Sharing a beautiful clip contributed by reader Mervin Boey, a lover of nostalgic local playgrounds:
Published: 06 January 2012
Updated: 26 March 2014