The HDB was established on February 1, 1960, with the primary goal of addressing Singapore’s acute housing shortage and improving living conditions. The HDB embarked on large-scale public housing projects to provide affordable homes for the growing population.
First HDB History in Singapore
The construction of the first batch of HDB flats began in the early 1960s. Queenstown, one of the earliest satellite towns in Singapore, saw the completion of the first HDB flats in 1963.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the HDB continued to build and expand public housing estates across Singapore. This included the development of various towns, such as Toa Payoh, Ang Mo Kio, and Jurong.
Public Playground History in Singapore
As public housing estates were being developed, the concept of incorporating public playgrounds into these communities gained prominence. Playgrounds were seen as essential for providing recreational spaces for residents, especially families with children.
In the 1970s, HDB playgrounds were characterized by distinctive and colorful designs, often featuring metal structures and elements. These playgrounds became iconic and are fondly remembered by many Singaporeans who grew up during that era.
Over the years, playground designs evolved, with a shift towards safer and more modern materials. Traditional metal playgrounds were gradually replaced by structures made from plastic and rubber materials to enhance safety.
15 HDB & Dragon Playgrounds in Singapore
Here are public HDB playgrounds (retro dragon playgrounds included!) that you can visit with your family and have a blast – children and adults are welcome!
|HDB Playground Singapore||Address|
|Dragon Playground Toa Payoh||28 Lor 6 Toa Payoh|
|Dragon Playground Ang Mo Kio||570 Ang Mo Kio Ave 3|
|Clock Playground Bishan||514B Bishan Street 13|
|Dove Playground Dakota Crescent (Closed)||10 Dakota Crescent|
|Dinosaur Playground Toa Payoh||27 Toa Payoh East|
|Sampan Playground Pasir Ris||623 Elias Road|
|Wallholla Playground Bishan||160 Bishan Street 13|
|Bishan Ang Mo Kio Park Playground||1384 Ang Mo Kio Ave 1|
|West Coast Park Playground||West Coast Ferry Road|
|Tiong Bahru Park Train Playground||Tiong Bahru Road|
|Yishun River Green Playground||329 Yishun Ring Road|
|Sembawang Park Battleship Playground||Sembawang Road|
|Pasir Ris Park Adventure Playground||110 Pasir Ris Road|
|Choa Chu Kang Truck Playground||817B Choa Chu Kang Ave 1|
|Watermelon Playground Tampines||858 Tampines Ave 5|
1. Dragon Playground at Toa Payoh Lorong 6
Along Toa Payoh Lorong 6, an orange dragon roars on against the tide of time.
The iconic dragon playground, which was completed in 1979, will be preserved despite plans to revamp the mature Toa Payoh estate.
A heritage marker will be installed at its site, revealed the Housing Board in plans unveiled at the HDB Hub atrium by Defence Minister and Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Ng Eng Hen.
The brainchild of then-HDB designer Khor Ean Ghee, it is distinguished from modern playgrounds by its strong geometric lines and use of concrete, terrazzo and mosaic tiles, features abandoned owing to safety concerns in the mid-1990s.
Parking at Dragon Playground Toa Payoh
This one is missing its swing, but is in great condition otherwise. Find it opposite SAFRA Toa Payoh. For drivers, you can park in the small carpark lots by Blocks 29 and 30 Lorong 5 Toa Payoh.
Despite hogging the lion’s share of attention, the Toa Payoh dragon is not the only retro playground that has survived to this day.
Dragon Playground Toa Payoh is located at 28 Lor 6 Toa Payoh, Singapore 310028.
2. Dragon Playground at Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3
Found in Cheng San estate, this dragon playground has a similar configuration to its more famous counterpart, but rubber matting has replaced what used to be a sandpit.
Built around 1978, it has seen less wear and tear than its famous twin in Toa Payoh Lorong 6. A sinuous metal skeleton forms a twisting ladder from the dragon’s “tail” at ground level to its head, where mosaic-clad slides and more conventional stepladders may be found.
Parking at Dragon Playground Ang Mo Kio
For drivers, there is a carpark within the very same estate, although you will have to walk through 3 HDB blocks to arrive at the Ang Mo Kio Dragon Playground. Nonetheless, it’s just a short 4 minute walk. How convenient!
Dragon Playground Ang Mo Kio is located at 570 Ang Mo Kio Ave 3, Singapore 560570.
3. Clock Playground at Bishan Street 13
Located next to Bishan Interchange along Bishan Street 13, clocks are this playground’s dominant motif. It forms a likely unintended irony when framed against the constant threat of removal for the sake of redevelopment.
Dating back to around 1988, the small playground features a house on stilts with a clock face on its facade. Metal ladders and a bridge allow the young and young-at-heart to clamber and traverse behind the clock face, before sliding down a terrazzo slide hidden by another clock face.
Quaint rocking horses atop metal springs can also be found at this playground, which is built on a sandpit that has not been replaced by the more modern rubber matting.
Carpark at Clock Playground Bishan
You can park at Junction 8 and take a 4 minutes walk to the Clock Playground at Bishan. Otherwise, park at the open air HDB carpark at 191 Bishan Street 13 and cross the road.
Clock Playground Bishan is located at 514B Bishan Street 13, Bishan Bus Interchange, Singapore 572514.
4. Dove Playground at Dakota Crescent (Closed)
Slated for redevelopment by the end of this year, the estate is one of the oldest in Singapore.
A pair of doves watch over the now-vacated blocks, awaiting their likely imminent destruction. A spiral slide made of terrazzo emerges from between the cuddling doves and a metal bridge links the structure to a pyramid with a sliding pole, stepladders and tyre swings.
A key place for community bonding, the playground has seen better days, but remains a key landmark of the estate.
The former Dove Playground at Dakota Crescent was located at 10 Dakota Cres, Singapore 390010.
5. Dinosaur Playground at Toa Payoh
Defying all conventional definitions of a playground, two dinosaurs stand guard near a clutch of eggs in front of Block 57 on Kim Keat Avenue in Toa Payoh.
Dinosaurs in Singapore! Hidden in Toa Payoh, this mama T-rex guards her eggs while her baby is poised for play. While there’s only another small dinosaur-shaped play structure there, the dino-crazed little ones will love running around and under this huge sculpture.
There’s also a small food centre and neighbourhood supermarket one block away – so you can pick up drinks if your young ones wear themselves out trying to climb the dinosaur.
The adventurous can straddle the slippery back of the dinosaurs, the larger of which stands at about 3m tall, for a unique vantage point of the surrounding area. A stegosaurus-shaped slide accompanies the dinosaurs.
The Dinosaur Playground Toa Payoh is located at 27 Toa Payoh E, Singapore 310027.
6. Sampan Playground at Pasir Ris
Located near Elias Mall in Pasir Ris, this sampan-shaped playground was completed around 1994. It was one of Mr Khor’s final designs.
Split into two halves atop a sandpit, one half contains a tyre ladder for children to clamber over, while the other is built slightly higher to accommodate a wide terrazzo slide with ladders at the bow of the sampan.
Even the colour scheme of the playground reflects that of a sampan using green, red, brown, black and white tiles, right down to the painted eyes commonly seen on such boats.
The Sampan Playground at Pasir Ris is located at 623 Elias Rd, Singapore 510623.
7. Wallholla Playground at Bishan
A vertical playground? Now that’s cool. Located at Block 160 Bishan Street 13, this structure, called a wallholla, stands nearly three storeys tall and lets kids climb, crawl, jump, hang and slide on its wavy platforms.
If it gets too crowded inside, there are also climbing grips on each side that let children scale the outside of the cage.
There’s also a net climbing structure and metal slide nearby. Best for kindergarteners and older kids.
Wallholla Playground Bishan is located at 160 Bishan Street 13, Singapore 570160.
8. Bishan Ang Mo Kio Park Playground
If you’re planning on visiting only this part of the park, consider leaving the car at the HDB carpark across the street at Block 247 Ang Mo Kio Street 21, instead.
There’s an overhead bridge nearby to cross the road safely with the kids. Best for children aged six and up.
The adventure playground here has clusters of play structures, including a pyramid climbing net, a tree-climbing structure, a rope bridge, a climbing wall and several slides. It’s a long walk from the car park, though.
Bishan Ang Mo Kio Park is located at 1384 Ang Mo Kio Ave 1.
9. West Coast Park Playground
West Coast Park has been the stalwart playground of the west since opening in 1999. However, it can still hold its own against newer playgrounds, thanks to its arsenal of adventurous play equipment that even teenagers find fun.
The 600 sq m playground houses a host of obstacle courses, such as a flying fox, balancing beams and a giant rope pyramid which, at 9.3m tall, is one of the largest in Singapore. There is an entire section for toddlers, including a mini fire engine and a Viking ship.
A few companies have worked on the playground over the years, adding new sections via renovation works.
Children aged two to five have lower centres of gravity and are shorter, so equipment with lower heights are more suitable for them. Handrails which are within their reach are installed on these play elements and steps are less steep.
As toddlers prefer imaginative play, equipment with designs that resemble real-life vehicles, such as the fire engine, also appeal to them. Those aged five to 12 prefer more physically challenging and problem-solving tasks, hence the giant rope pyramid and balancing beams.
West Coast Park is located at W Coast Ferry Rd, Singapore 126978.
10. Tiong Bahru Park Train Playground
Visitors to this playground get to go on a train ride with a difference. The locomotive here features five cabins tilting at different angles, along with rope elements, climbing equipment and slides within the train.
First opened in 1967, Tiong Bahru Park was redeveloped in 2000 with the theme of “Old Frame, New Images”. The train was then built in line with a concept by a landscape consultant engaged by the National Parks Board (NParks).
The final train design was also checked for playground safety compliance before being built.
Tiong Bahru Park Train Playground is located at Tiong Bahru Road, 168732.
11. Yishun River Green Playground
Yishun residents have an art installation of a playground to let their children run around in.
The Yishun River Green playground, located at Block 330 Yishun Ring Road, features the Mini Pool, an art installation involving 16 pads on the ground that light up and change colour when they are stepped on.
The work is by Jen Lewin, a light sculptor based in the United States whose work was displayed at the 2014 edition of i Light Marina Bay, a light art festival that emphasises sustainability and energy-saving measures. Her art caught the eye of Playpoint, the playground specialist which developed the play area commissioned by the Nee Soon Town Council.
Complementing the 480 sq m playground’s whimsical theme are three crooked houses that seem to have been plucked straight out of a children’s book by, say, Dr Seuss. They were designed by Monstrum, a Danish playground design company. There is also a kinetics hammock trellis – a swingset with nine seats installed at different heights.
The playground, which opened in December 2015, was developed with an estimated budget of $413,000, according to Playpoint.
Yishun River Green Playground is located at 329 Yishun Ring Rd, Singapore 760329.
12. Sembawang Park Battleship Playground
Nestled within the coastal Sembawang Park is a life-sized shipwreck of wooden planks and galvanised steel, separated into five fractured pieces.
The massive “wreck” is the centrepiece of the 900 sq m Sembawang Park playground, commissioned to be maritime-themed. The “wreck” was built in memory of two British battleships that sank north of Singapore after being attacked by the Japanese during World War II. Complete with gun turrets, propellers, smoke stacks and even a rudder, the ship was crafted with an emphasis on detail. It opened in July 2013.
In line with the naval theme, the playground in Sembawang Park uses sand as a base instead of a “unitary surface”, which is the rubber flooring seen at some other playgrounds.
Sand has long been a staple feature of playgrounds – and for good reason. According to child development experts, playing with sand brings many benefits to children, such as enhancing sensory experiences and creativity.
However, according to consultants, it is also sometimes considered more difficult to maintain as it may harden or get displaced.
The Battleship Playground is located in Sembawang Park, along Sembawang Rd.
13. Pasir Ris Park Adventure Playground
Families are drawn to the Pasir Ris Park playground near Elias Road for its coastal view, sea breeze and welcoming 750 sq m of space.
Thanks to its expanse – afforded to only a handful of playgrounds in Singapore – the playground has a collection of well-spaced-out play equipment. The highlights of the playground include a 10m-long slide stemming from a rope pyramid perched atop a hill, several rock-climbing walls and a rope bridge.
The playground has been built and upgraded by different companies over the years.
Despite being built to withstand heavy usage, the playground requires regular inspection and maintenance for safety. But there is one problem frequent checks cannot prevent: vandalism. Unfortunately, playground specialists say there is little playground caretakers can do, except remove markings and spray paint with thinner or paint over the vandalised sections.
Pasir Ris Park Adventure Playground is located at 110 Pasir Ris Rd, Singapore 519113.
14. Truck Playground Choa Chu Kang
HDB playgrounds have come a long way since the iconic Dragon-themed one we knew as kids. Just look at this Instagram-friendly playground at Keat Hong Mirage in Choa Chu Kang!
This military-themed playground pays homage to the former Keat Hong army camp that used to be in this area.
Kids can climb up, in and slide out of the eye-catching army truck, or take the wheel in the driver’s seat. They’ll love stepping on the “fallen” crates, which also double up as seats.
There’s also a watch tower to climb up and a fireman’s pole to slide down, and we like how the rubber mat underfoot echoes the military theme, as well.
This playground is one of six new generation HDB playgrounds built in recent years.
Truck Playground is located in front of Block 817B Choa Chu Kang Avenue 1.
15. Mangosteen Watermelon Playground Tampines
This fruit-themed playground at Tampines Avenue 5 was constructed in 1989. It was designed by Lee-Loy Kwee Wah, then an HDB architect.
A slide is hidden in a slice of the red, green and yellow mosaic-tiled watermelon while a wedge features a tiny swing (above) an adult could only dream of sitting in. Also located nearby are two hollow mangosteens with drawn-in doors and windows, “decorated” by kids over the years.
The Mangosteen Watermelon Playground is located at 858 Tampines Ave 5, Singapore 520858.
Million-Dollar Public Playgrounds in Singapore
The playground business in Singapore is no child’s play.
From $2,000 playgrounds in the 1920s, millions of dollars are now being pumped into developing and building play areas across Singapore, which is said to have one of the highest density of playgrounds in the world.
Take for instance the upcoming Jewel Changi Airport which is set to open next year. The Straits Times understands it will house a playground that costs around $3 million.
Its creators, Playpoint, said they hope the structure – designed to look like a stainless steel sculpture with a mirror finish from afar – will become an Instagram hotspot at the airport.
Largest Playground Singapore: Jurong Lake Gardens
Meanwhile, Jurong Lake Gardens will soon be home to the largest playground on the island, said CT-Art’s director Patrick Lee. ST understands it will sit in an area more than 3,000 sqm in size. The gardens will be progressively completed from 2020 onwards.
Playground projects started crossing the million-dollar mark about eight years ago, and have become more popular over the past three years. Estimates by some operators place the industry’s value at $40 million – 30 per cent more than five years ago.
Sophisticated play areas have become key fixtures in larger malls, said Mr Lee. “Playgrounds are getting bigger, better and more attractive to hook in parents, some of whom travel from one end of the island to another with their children.”
Playpoint Playground Builder
Mr Jason Sim, founder of Playpoint, agreed that playgrounds have become a focal point for marketers to draw families to buy a home or visit a mall or park. His company is behind Waterway Point’s approximately $3 million dry and wet playground which opened in 2016.
“Singaporeans are more sophisticated and there is a demand for iconic and artistic playgrounds,” said Mr Sim.
Industry players said playgrounds introduced in the 1970s and 1980s cost between $10,000 and $20,000. Today, an average heartland playground usually costs between $50,000 and $100,000 to build.
There are about 10 companies in the playground industry. Of these, six are part of a group which was set up in 2014 under the Landscape Industry Association of Singapore.
New safety standards, written in 1999, served as the catalyst for the industry’s growth. The guides specified new requirements, including the replacement of sand pits with “safety surfacing” such as rubber flooring. It also required the installation of safer play equipment.
Up till then, the main playground builder had been the Housing Board, which designed, among other styles, concrete, terrazzo and mosaic-tiled playgrounds.
Semec Enterprise Playground Builder
Mr Cheang Kar Wai, the marketing director of the oldest playground building company in Singapore – Semec Enterprise, which was set up in 1984 – said it started out building wooden playgrounds that cost between $10,000 and $20,000 or so.
Slides were made from locally-manufactured fibreglass.
Today, most of their playground equipment are imported from countries such as America, Germany, France and South Korea. Semec Enterprise, which has two in-house designers, is also behind Admiralty Park’s much-hyped playground which features 26 slides. It opened last year and cost about $3 million to build.
Playgrounds have become costlier as they have expanded in scale and designs are customised.
Thriving Playground Business in Singapore
Mr Cheang described his industry as a “thriving” one. About 70 per cent of Semec’s business stems from public housing projects. In a year, the company produces more than 100 playgrounds and fitness centres across the island.
Along with its growth, playground companies are also expected to accommodate a wider user base with varied needs.
For instance, companies are tasked to develop play areas with equipment for children with special needs. One such example is CT-Art Creation’s “cocoon nest”, which a child with autism might appreciate for it shuts off external noises and can rock the user gently.
Operators also add tech gadgets to their playgrounds. For instance, Playpoint introduced a scoreboard at The Pinnacle@Duxton.
Developers have also been commissioning play areas which are reminiscent of a neighbourhood’s heritage. In a nod to Keat Hong’s past as a military camp, the playground there takes the form of a military tank.
However, not everyone is enamoured by the sleek playgrounds of today. Some are still nostalgic about the iconic playgrounds designed by HDB.
Dragon Playground Designer
Playground-building veteran Khor Ean Ghee, who designed the dragon and dove playgrounds of Toa Payoh and Dakota Crescent, acknowledged that modern playgrounds use “new and improved materials”. However, he said elements of the playgrounds of yore are not entirely irrelevant.
He said: “Children should still be able to experience different textures and interact with their natural settings. Our sand pits brought the beach to the children. Rubber mats can be too artificial.”
Architect Maria Boey, 67, who worked as the head of HDB’s landscape studio in 1989, said designing playgrounds requires a fine balance. Ms Boey grew up in Malaysia, where she was surrounded by fruit trees, chickens, turkeys, dogs and guinea pigs. There was even a stream near her home which was always filled with guppies.
She believes key elements must be installed at playgrounds: Swings for users to enjoy the wind, and see-saws which require balance and encourage teamwork. Optimally, playgrounds should also be located near fruit trees.
Mr Khor added that the industry must remember to differentiate one playground from the other. He said: “Playgrounds in Bukit Timah and Changi shouldn’t look the same. Children must be attracted to these designs.”