Photographer Applauds HDB’s Innovation Attempt With Tampines BTO, Says Trial & Error Is Necessary

Photographer Praises HDB’s Innovation With Tampines BTO, Hopes Backlash Won’t Stifle Future Designs

A new Build-To-Order (BTO) project in Tampines has become a hot topic amongst Singaporeans for its unique take on its lift lobbies.

With all the talk surrounding the red and yellow lift lobbies of Tampines GreenVines, Singapore photographer Darren Soh took to Facebook to applaud the Housing Development Board (HDB) for its innovation.

While it is good HDB addressed the public backlash, he hopes the board will continue innovating in their designs.

Mr Soh’s post later went viral, garnering over 1,000 shares in less than a day.

Trial and error is part of process

In the lengthy Facebook post on Saturday (4 Mar), Mr Soh said since HDB was founded in 1960, they have been at the forefront of pushing new innovations, technologies, and design strategies.

It would be naive to think the contemporary HDB estates and blocks we now enjoy have happened overnight.

Behind the scenes, architects and engineers trial and error tirelessly.

“In many ways, public housing in Singapore is a constant work in progress,” he said. “Some new things work, some don’t. We adopt the things that work and continue to refine those that don’t.”

Addressing the Tampines BTO blocks that have been the talk of the town in the past week, Mr Soh said most of the views expressed have been negative.

One person even wrote a strongly worded letter to The Straits Times (ST) saying the idea that public housing needs to be given “more character” is “misguided at best and a form of elitism at worst”.

Mr Soh said in the mid-1980s to late 1990s, HDB had tried to build estates identities precisely by adding character to otherwise nameless and faceless blocks.

Photographer bold use of colours at Tampines BTO flats

Mr Soh said he went down to photograph the yellow lift lobbies at Blocks 641A, B, and C, fearing they will not remain yellow for long.

photographer tampines BTO

Source: Darren Soh | Photographer on Facebook

What most viral social media posts have failed to express is that the colour scheme actually stops at the lift lobbies.

He explains that the rest of the common corridors are the plain vanilla ones we have grown familiar with.

photographer tampines BTO

Source: Darren Soh | Photographer on Facebook

It is important he said, that not everything on social media should be believed. Much like photography, it is capable of telling half-truths.

At the end of the day, lift lobbies are liminal spaces, areas of transition. They are not places where people dwell for long.

This makes it the perfect location to execute a way-finding and block identity exercise, especially in an estate with 11 identical-looking blocks, said Mr Soh.

He praises the architects’ attempts to address this using bold colours.

Public feedback can be stifling to design

Unfortunately, Mr Soh said some residents have found the colours, especially the red, overpowering.

After the feedback, HDB painted the walls and ceilings of the lift lobbies white.

Ceiling Of ‘Eerie’ Red Tampines BTO Painted White, Spooky Vibes Seemingly Defused

To his knowledge, HDB will also be painting the yellow blocks’ ceiling and walls white as well.

He said, “all we will have left are photographs of what will now go down in Singapore public housing history as a really bold attempt at using design to address a problem that may have been taken a step too far”.

Mr Soh said it is good that HDB took immediate steps to address the public backlash.

Nonetheless, he hopes everyone remembers not all backlash is justified. There is a need for HDB to deal with things in a level-headed manner with future issues that surface.

Innovation in design doesn’t happen overnight, he added.

Unless we are happy living in “faceless boxes where we can never find our way around”, Mr Soh said we should be mindful of how stifling public feedback can be on design.

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Featured image by MS News and adapted from Darren Soh | Photographer on Facebook.

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