Category: History

Mosaic Memories: Building a Singapore Playground

Originally researched and written for the National Museum of Singapore’s The More We Get Together: Singapore’s Playgrounds 1930-2030 (2018) exhibition. It resulted in the above installation conceptualised with Atelier HOKO.

A variety of local construction materials were used to produce the distinctive playgrounds that a generation of Singaporeans grew up with during the 1970s and 1980s. Dig deeper and discover the building blocks of these playgrounds!

Hume Pipes
From a tortoise shell to the body of a giraffe, such circular concrete pipes were commonly used in early playground designs. Typically used in sewage systems, the Hume pipe’s smooth surfaces made them safe to play on, but more importantly, this material helped contractors more easily realise Mr Khor Ean Ghee’s playgrounds. In the 1970s, the local construction industry was not as developed so Mr Khor designed his playgrounds around these readymade pipes that are named after its Australian inventors. Their company, Hume Industries, set up a factory along Bukit Timah in 1923 and the pipes used in local playgrounds were most likely manufactured there.

Sandpits
Unlike many early playgrounds which had concrete flooring, HDB began building its playgrounds in 10-by-10 metres boxes filled with sand to cushion children when they jumped off play structures or if they accidentally fell. This loose, granular substance could also be played with, and children would build sandcastles or simply dug into this tactile material. Many of the sandpits also had large ledges that parents would sit on while keeping an eye on their children playing. From the nineties, sandpits gave way to synthetic rubber flooring. This new material of the time was thought to be more colourful, and unlike sand, they did not conceal litter or hazards such as broken glass.

Terrazzo
This weather-worthy material was a more durable alternative in Singapore’s tropical climate, compared to earlier playgrounds built with stainless steel and timber. Made out of chips of marble or granite set in concrete that was polished to give a smooth surface, terrazzo was also safe for children to play on. While this solid material gave rise to the sculptural forms of local playgrounds, they also made them less flexible especially when compared to new proprietary playground that became widely available in the nineties. Typically made out of plastic, these new playgrounds could be more easily shaped for different types of play and was convenient to replace when damaged. This made them the playgrounds of choice for a new generation.

Mosaic Tiles
They gave a generation of playgrounds its distinctive look, but these small square tiles were picked for very practical reasons. Early playgrounds made out of concrete pipes and metal structures required a regular coat of marine paint to ensure they looked presentable. This became unnecessary when Mr Khor Ean Ghee began using brightly-coloured mosaic tiles in his playgrounds, on the suggestion of a contractor. His colleagues who maintained the housing estate loved that this saved their time and money in keeping the playground safe and clean. Besides playgrounds, mosaic tiles were also commonly used then on the walls and floors in apartments, as well as public furniture installed at void decks!

Rubber Tyres
Together with ropes and nets, rubber tyres offered a mobile element to the largely static playground designs. They were safer and more durable to use as seats on swings compared to the previous timber panels that would splinter and rot in our tropical weather. The impact of being hit by an elastic rubber swing compared to a timber one was also lesser too. Rubber tyres were also then produced locally, one of the many products put out by Singapore’s lively rubber manufacturing industry in the 1970s. Starting with this material that comes from the latex of a tropical plant, or created synthetically, factories would create all sorts of consumer and industrial goods, including rubber bands, cushions and shoes.

[FEATURED] 画家与策展人蔡荣恩 以艺术家之名 走入平面设计

BY 黄向京

我们知道蔡荣恩(80几岁)是本地抽象派画家、前国家博物馆画廊知名策展人(1978-1985)、培训过美术教师,但少人知道他在平面设计也有一手。

当蔡荣恩来到国家设计中心五楼的“新加坡设计档案”展之“艺术家——平面设计师蔡荣恩”,小木橱上虽展示为数不多的展品,但他已发出惊叹,因为连他自己也没有收藏的平面设计作品,竟会有人感兴趣。

蔡荣恩接受联合早报访问时说:“今天我们比较重视保存档案资料,以前根本看不到它们的价值,很多资料都丢失了,前国家博物馆画廊丢掉蛮多的。”

➜ Read the full story in 联合早报

The IT Revolution: Powering Up Singapore’s Industrial Design

It was once touted as the world’s slimmest and lightest notebook personal computer. Weighing 2.1 kilograms and just under 3 centimetres thick, the IPC Porta-PC 386SLP3 Notebook Computer was a piece of cutting-edge technology.

Today’s “ultraportable” laptops come in half the size, but when the Porta-PC debuted in 1992, its sleek form and black anodised aluminium casing then stood out amongst its boxy plastic competitors. What many probably didn’t know too -this high-tech product was designed and manufactured entirely in Singapore.

The Porta-PC was awarded the Singapore Design Award in 1992 and the judges commended David for giving the design a “star quality”.

A creation by computer firm IPC Corporation and industrial designer David Chen, the Porta-PC was part of a wave of consumer electronics Singapore made for the world in the 1990s. These rolled out from an Information Technology (IT) industry that arose out of the government’s push for Singapore to ride on the then emerging IT wave. Beginning in 1981, the National Computer Board was set up to implement computerisation in the public service. As this revolution spread to the private sector in the following decade, manufacturers of consumer electronics in Singapore, ranging from multinationals such as Philips, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola and Sony, to local start-ups like IPC and Creative Technology, assembled teams of engineers and industrial designers to invent and manufacture IT products.

Besides the PortaPC, David also designed several computers for IPC include the Uosys. This is his original sketch and the final computer as shown in its product sheet.

While David and his consultancy Studio Industrial Design also designed desktop computers, printers and keyboards, he fondly remembers the Porta-PC because it clinched the nation’s then top industry accolade, the Singapore Design Award in 1992.

“I wasn’t thinking of competing (for the world’s slimmest laptop). We were just using our brains to see how to minimise it,” says the industrial designer who returned to Singapore in the late 1970s after studying and working in the United Kingdom. “Now people use titanium… but that time, nobody in the world had done it (use aluminium).”

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