It is common for Singapore architecture to have a feature that I do not recall seeing anywhere else. It appears to the casual observer to be one community’s interpretation of the stoop one still finds at the front of row houses in old inner city neighborhoods in the US. In Singapore’s case, the ground floor of an apartment building is left empty except for a few round concrete tables and benches that cannot be moved. Architects design an empty space from the beginning with a singular purpose, creating and conserving an accessible space where people can spend time with each other.
To any Singaporean, a void deck plays an important role in day to day living. Most of the time one walks by or through the empty space with little thought. Things change begin to change in the early afternoons and evenings. People, especially the young and old, begin to hang out, chatting, spending time with each other, and playing. When someone in the building has passed on, wakes are held in the void decks, open for all to witness, giving family and friends a place to gather and remember.
To the uninitiated, the space initially seems to be wasted. You walk by and it is simply empty. Shaded, silent space where the only sound one hears is the echo of one’s footsteps. When I walk though at times like this, it feels like one is totally alone. I can hear the echo of the Psalmist playing out in life; “Why, God, do you turn a deaf ear? Why do you make yourself scarce?” (Psalm 88.14)
Having experienced the other, at its extreme I catch my mind playing games, remembering and replaying the sounds of children laughing, people praying and remembering, and laughter and banter that comes from living communities.
To those who question the emptiness, I would remind them of two facts. What may seem empty will not always be that way. Emptiness create space for many good things to follow, including a special space for others to sit, be, and commune with us.