Void Deck: Planned Utopias, Toa Payoh This drawing is an exploration and reinvention of the figure ground mode of representation. It absorbs multiple plans from a variety of milestone periods in the history of a city, combining conflicted ideas of picturesque Garden City planning from a colonial planning office, technically and climatically efficient execution from a nationalist government, and politically legitimate and democratic persuasions from a regime trying to stay in power. This drawing assembles and narrates architectural plans of the raised pilotis in housing blocks alongside a variety of speculative open spaces to reveal a rich and continuous public ground plane, never before documented in conventional urban plans of Singapore. Toa Payoh is the first satellite new town designed and built from tabula rasa by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) of Singapore. Constructed in two phases between 1964 and 1987, it contains the majority of housing experimentation within the nation-state, especially in terms of the organization of the land, the introduction of the “neighborhood principle,” the building of a variety of high-rise typological blocks, and the almost complete transplantation of diasporic communities through resettlement and reallocation. With a plan comprising a town park and an industrial complex at its heart, and bounded by four major roadways in the cardinal directions, it beckons a utopic spatial analysis. In contrast to HDB’s centrally rationalized plan, an unrealized sketch plan of Toa Payoh in 1958 by the colonial Singapore Improvement Trust showed a large idyllic garden city suburb with no definitive centre or traffic boundaries, and housing blocks lined along the meandering roads oriented in multiple directions. This analytical drawing is an excavation of the urban social and technological ideologies behind Toa Payoh as articulated through the evolution of its plan. It hypothesizes that the earlier unrealized plan was imbued with latent humanist tendencies that were replaced by a different set of ideas on community in the new plan under the nationalist frame. It proposes that the intersections of the two plans instigates particular moments of juxtapositions and collisions of communal spaces narrated by the void deck, which in this place and time promises new possibilities for the re-imagination of public space.

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Void Deck: Planned Utopias, Toa Payoh, Exhibited at Para-Site Gallery

Hong Kong

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