Bomb Shelters, To Dress Or Not To Dress?

In Singapore, the presence of bomb shelters in Housing Development Board (HDB) flats is not just a provision but a mandatory requirement. These shelters, commonly referred to as Household Shelters (HS), are an integral part of Singapore's civil defence strategy, aiming to protect its residents in the event of a national emergency or threat.

Image of a typical bomb shelter found in HDB Flat. (Image source: Prefab Technology 3)

The incorporation of bomb shelters into public housing design stems from the country's geographical location and historical context. As a small island-nation situated in a region that has experienced conflicts in the past, Singapore's government took the initiative to ensure that every home has a built-in space that can serve as a protected area during crises such as warfare or natural disasters. Instituted under the Civil Defence Shelter Act in 1997, these shelters are constructed to specific standards designed to withstand the impact of blast and debris.

Bomb shelters are built with reinforced concrete walls, a steel door, and a ventilation system, ensuring that they are structurally sound and impervious to potential damage. Nonetheless, many residents perceive their HS as a bleak and imposing feature in their otherwise welcoming home environment. This is where the role of interior designers becomes significant, transforming these utilitarian spaces into aesthetic components that blend seamlessly with the home's overall design.

An inexpensive treatment - Bomb shelter door treated as a magnetic board for souvenir magnets and the main wall is painted with magnetic paint that also serves as a chalk board. (Image source: Fuse Concept

Go Minimal

Interior designers have developed creative strategies to integrate bomb shelters into a home's décor. The first approach is to use inexpensive treatments such as making use of the metal door. It is a perfect material to stick all the magnet collection from your travels. Simply paint it in a darker tone to make the colours from the magnets pop and voila, you have a conversation starter when friends visit.

Concealing treatment – the bomb shelter door, the vent hole and as well as the walls are all concealed by a box up shown above. As there is a protruding handle, and allow for ventilation to flow, the box up structure usually has a thickness. Seen above, the designer made use of the thickness to create two open niches to break the monotony of the design. (Image source: Areana Creation) 

Camo and Concealment

Another approach is the use of camouflage and concealment, where designers use decorative elements or furniture to obscure the presence of the shelter door. For example, large bookshelves or art installations can be strategically placed in front of the shelter entrance, making it less noticeable.

Try to figure out where the bomb shelter is? It’s hidden behind the mirror and fluted panel. Both elements, mirror and the lines from the flutes are eye catching and distracts or attracts enough to make you shift your focus on the bomb shelter being there in the first place.
(Image source: Jialux Interior

Shifting Focus

Next, designers strategically employ lighting and colour schemes to shift the focus away from the shelter. Warm, inviting colours along with layered lighting can soften the room's ambiance, drawing attention away from the shelter door. Additionally, innovative storage solutions transform the shelter into a more functional space. Built-in cabinetry that matches the rest of the home's design theme can preserve aesthetic continuity while providing practical use.

Using artificial greenery to create a vertical garden, a fresh approach to conceal the bomb shelter door and the protruding handle.

(image by Style Degree

Changeable Approach

Furthermore, removable wall panels and decorative stickers offer residents the opportunity to customize the look of their shelter door. These can be easily changed and updated according to the homeowner's preferences or design trends, giving the door a more personal and less utilitarian feel.

The bomb shelter door totally immerses in the space as the theme and the bomb shelter door gels together seamlessly in this project by Zenith ARC. (Image source: Zenith ARC) 

Immersive Tactic

A more immersive tactic involves theme-based design, where the shelter becomes part of a larger story told through the home's interior. For example, and since the bomb shelter door has an already “industrial” look to it, why not use it to the fullest and have an all-out industrial look to the space, to continue to style narrative.

What is the Ultimate Goal?

Ultimately, the goal for interior designers is to respect the functional integrity of the bomb shelter while simultaneously enhancing its aesthetic appeal. This balance ensures that the shelter remains a safe and reliable refuge if needed, while also contributing positively to the home's overall atmosphere and style. 

Through the clever use of design principles and techniques, interior designers can successfully address the challenges posed by the integration of bomb shelters in HDB flats. This intersection of functionality and beauty reflects not only the unique aspects of Singaporean housing but also the adaptability and resourcefulness of its people.

Posted on 19th February 2024

Written by Astley Ng – The Designerd

SIXIDES Editorial Team


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