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Leow Wen Xuan
The Straits Times
Feb 8, 2024
Remember the red-themed HDB blocks in Tampines North that made headlines in 2023 for their “creepy” aesthetic?
One of those blocks is in the spotlight again after a dragon mural put up by a couple for Chinese New Year was taken down days later.
At around midnight on Feb 3, the couple, who live in the Tampines GreenVines Build-To-Order project, put up a dragon mural on a wall at the lift lobby of Block 640B Tampines Street 62, to celebrate the Year of the Dragon and to say “hello” to neighbours, as they had just moved in in December 2023.
The husband, who requested anonymity, said he and his wife wanted to brighten the mood in the neighbourhood. They spent at least an hour designing and assembling the artwork, using white vinyl stickers to emulate the iconic Toa Payoh dragon playground.
The couple had also put up good wishes for Chinese New Year a few days earlier on the ninth floor. They had planned to remove the stickers, which do not leave marks on the wall, after Chinese New Year, he said.
Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng told The Straits Times he found out about the dragon mural on Feb 5 from a resident who described it as “sweet” and “nice”.
As vice-chairman of Tampines Town Council, Mr Baey said, he instinctively knew it would not be allowed on common property, but he suggested that the council leave it up until the end of Chinese New Year, as there was no damage done.
However, the mural was removed after two days, as Mr Baey’s suggestion did not reach the cleaner in time.
The town council told ST the creators had put up the decorations before requesting formal approval. A cleaner, following cleaning and maintenance protocols, then removed the stickers.
The council said it will allow the stickers to be displayed until the end of Chinese New Year if the couple choose to put them up again.
It said approvals are needed to ensure compliance with by-laws and to balance the differing needs for public displays. Factors in considering such requests include ensuring the decorations do not clutter the common areas or obscure safety signs.
Under its by-laws, common property should not be removed, destroyed, damaged or defaced. Costs incurred by the town council in restoring the damaged property can be recovered from the person responsible.
Mr Baey said he appreciates residents taking the initiative to beautify common spaces but hopes this incident would not set a precedent for a change in regulations.
The Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport, and Sustainability and the Environment, said the challenge is how to define appropriateness and what can be done and what cannot be done, so “we have to treat it case by case”.
The husband said they have no plans to reinstate the mural but were glad the mural has “generated chatter and conversation among the neighbours”.
“What’s important is that residents have seen it and liked it,” he added.
Teacher Eugan Chan, 36, a Block 640B resident, said the mural was welcoming, especially when it was the first thing to greet him when he exited the carpark.
He said: “We keep talking about fostering a ‘kampung’ spirit, but when people want to do something nice for the small community here, they are not allowed to do so.”
Mr Ahmad Fadzly, a civil servant who moved into Block 640B around October 2023, said decorating shared living spaces builds a community spirit, but “lawfully it is not right”, as it may be considered vandalism.
But the 36-year-old did not consider the mural vandalism, as it was not a “nuisance” and it “pleases the neighbours”, noting that it was a waste for it to be removed.
In 2023, pictures and videos of red floors and walls in the lift lobbies of Block 640B drew public attention for their “spooky” appearance. Some residents were displeased with the red colour scheme, which was part of the BTO project.
In response, Mr Baey contacted HDB and some of the ceilings and walls were repainted white.
Block 640B is among 11 blocks in the Tampines GreenVines project that are themed in three different colours.
As at Feb 6, 1,227 of the 1,271 flats offered at Tampines GreenVines have been taken up, and 1,198 households have collected their keys, HDB said.