When former Housing Development Board (HDB) interior designer Khor Ean Ghee was tasked to design a series of playgrounds for Singapore’s upcoming new towns and housing estates in the seventies, he took inspirations from animals and objects that could provide a sense of familiarity and identity to Singaporeans.
Thus in the late seventies, the popular animal-themed sand-pit playgrounds were created, in the shapes of dragons, tigers, elephants, pelicans, doves and sparrows. Most of them lasted until the late nineties, when they were replaced by the safer modern plastic playgrounds. Several of these old-school playgrounds still exist in different parts of Singapore today, with the dragon playground at Toa Payoh the most iconic of all.
First Dragon, Toa Payoh Town Garden (Demolished)
When Khor Ean Ghee first designed the dragon playground, it was not well-received by the management. The metal structure was difficult to be manufactured, and the paint on the dragon head faded easily. The body was too long and there were only monkey bars. Nevertheless, the playground proved to be popular among the children when the first one was built at the Toa Payoh Town Garden in 1975.
In his later version, Khor Ean Ghee pixelated the dragon head and tail with glass mosaics that could retain their colour throughout the years. Glass mosaics of different colours were imported from Italy; warm coloured spectrum such as orange was used for the exterior of the playground structure, while the interior was made up of the cooler blue glass mosaics. To increase the fun factor of his playgrounds, Khor Ean Ghee also incorporated four key elements to his designs, which were the slides, swings, see-saws and merry-go-rounds.
The success of the playgrounds saw the same design duplicated in different housing estates and new towns, from Tampines to Jurong West. At its peak, there were dozens of them in Singapore. Only four dragon playgrounds have survived the test of time and escaped the fate of demolition today.
Orange Dragon, Toa Payoh Lorong 6
Probably the most iconic of all old-school playgrounds in Singapore today, the dragon playground at Toa Payoh Lorong 6 has fortunately been preserved by HDB, although it has seen some major changes in its surroundings recently. Block 28, the flat that stood beside the playground for more than three decades, was demolished in 2014.
Brown Dragon, Block 570 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3
The dragon playground at Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3 does not have a high profile as compared to the one at Toa Payoh, probably due to the fact that has a duller colour and its sand-pit was replaced by the rubber mats commonly seen in the modern playgrounds.
Mini Orange Dragon, Block 201 Toa Payoh Lorong 1
Mini Red Dragon, Block 53 Pipit Road
The “mini” dragon playgrounds may have similarly-designed heads made up of mosaics, but they do not have the long metal spines seen in their larger cousins. Instead, their bodies are made up of spiral slides. There are only two such mini dragon playgrounds left in Singapore today.
Green Dragon, Block 104 Tampines Street 11 (Demolished)
The HDB flats at Tampines Street 11 with its public amenities such as the dragon playground and basketball court were completed in around 1982. The flats and basketball court are still around today, but the green dragon playground had been replaced by a modern playground.
Orange Dragon, Block 664 Yishun Avenue 4 (Demolished)
This orange-head dragon with a red body was located between Block 664 and 665 at Yishun Avenue 4 in the eighties and nineties. Like many others, it was also demolished and replaced by the modern playground.
Blue Dragon, Bedok North Street 2 (Demolished)
This blue dragon playground was located at Bedok North Street 2, near the Bedok Stadium, Bedok Swimming Complex and Bedok Fitness Park. A new tennis centre and the sepak takraw and Silat federations were later added to the vicinity, but the dragon had long disappeared.
Brown Dragon, Jurong West (Demolished)
This photo of a dragon playground at Jurong West was taken in the 2000s by local blogger Gordonator. It was probably demolished in 2007.
Blue Dragon, Hougang (Demolished)
Another long lost blue dragon that used to stand at the junction between Lorong Low Koon and Tai Sing Crescent, off Upper Serangoon Road.
Have you played at dragon playgrounds before?
Do you still remember their former locations or have any old photos of the playgrounds?
Published: 30 August 2015
Updated: 12 May 2018