Aerial photographs of 1960s communal dining areas
18 May 2021
On the empty, void decks of Singapore’s public apartment blocks, run by the Housing & Development Board (HDB), lie various old stools and tables, available for local residents to enjoy. Probably dating back to the 1960s when the buildings were constructed to address a housing shortage, they’re now being celebrated in a new series by local creative Jonathan Tan.
Offering us a bird’s eye view of the furniture arrangements, Tan brings us interesting shapes and colours through ‘Lepak Downstairs’ with images that also give us a glimpse of the optimism the HDB undoubtedly felt during a time when it was estimated that over half a million people lived in squatter settlements or squalid shophouses.
As Tan puts it: “Singapore’s HDB void decks were built with a communal spirit in mind and the tables are installed to encourage residents to meet and mingle. I’ve always found the older designs of this public furniture to be quaint and charming. Unfortunately, these are starting to disappear as HDB estates are refurbished and upgraded with new and more modern designs replacing the old.”
This upgrading of the old apartment blocks was the reason Tan began the series. “I wanted to capture some of these old-school designs that I can find around Singapore, in an angle that I find unique for something so iconic for Singapore public housing. In a place where Singaporeans could meet to ‘Lepak Downstairs’, or ‘Relax Downstairs’ for those not familiar with the Singaporean slang.”
Amazingly, all of these photographs were shot on an iPhone XR, along with a three-metre selfie stick. The series follows Tan’s popular ‘Singapore Pantone’ and ‘Your House Downstairs’ series which gained international press coverage.
Jonathan currently works in advertising at 72andSunny Singapore as a senior brand manager. Photography is his side passion. Follow him on Instagram to discover more.