Design Feature #54

The Future of Playground: Know your game, know your way

Kevin Siu and Helen Fan

Text: TL ling
Translated by: Joel Wong
Image: TL Ling & Aaam Architects & Helen Fan & PMQ

Almost everyone rushed to travel abroad after the pandemic. Having fun is essential, but Helen Fan, an artist who studies local playgrounds, said that most people in Hong Kong prefer to travel abroad and believe facilities there are always better, "Everyone is fascinated about things in foreign countries, they never thought about embedding them in their city. People want to go to Japan again and again."

Finally, a change is on its way. The government plans to renovate around 170 public playgrounds in Hong Kong. Kevin Siu, co-founder of AaaM Architects, said, "It is a large-scale urban renewal project!" Entrusted by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, AaaM Architects conducted the Together We Play activity in many districts:

To consult the public's ideas on transforming a playground to the next level.

Helen Fan (left) and Kevin Siu

We live, we learn

Kevin said there are more than 600 playgrounds in Hong Kong, "the renovation of 170 playgrounds is nearly a quarter of the total number of playgrounds in Hong Kong." He and Helen agreed that this is definitely a "large-scale" project, which is rare in the world. Helen Fan is the author of Our Abstract Playscapes, who has been focusing on chronicling the history of Hong Kong's local playgrounds from the 1960s to the 1980s in recent years. Helen is also familiar with the development of playgrounds around the world. "Dutch architect Aldo van Eyck designed more than 700 playgrounds for Amsterdam since everything was destroyed after World War II. There was a practical need for such a project, different from solely rebuilding playgrounds."

This renovation motif proposed in the 2019 Policy Address stated, "LCSD will encourage and promote community participation and public engagement in the process of modifying these facilities." A rare and successful case in participatory design is the renovation project of Tuen Mun Park Playground, in which the public widely praises the results. Kevin noted, "There are very few projects in Hong Kong that involve participatory design. Such concepts are not implemented in a civic sense like foreign countries." His design studio AaaM Architects planned the "Together We Play" campaign in six districts, namely Kowloon City, Kwun Tong, Wong Tai Sin, Kwai Tsing, Tsuen Wan, and the Islands District in 2021, comprehend the need for playgrounds in the future for children and parents. “We just go for it and figure out what needs to be done along the way.”

"Our Abstract Playscapes" by Helen Fan(Image: Helen Fan)

Together We Play consulted the public's ideas on the renovation of local playgrounds through different activities. (Image: Together We Play)

Kevin recalled all sorts of acts he did try to get the public involved: "Through Facebook, set up booths on streets, contact district councilors and with schools, etc." Together We Play organized many large-scale activities, such as questionnaires, seminars, and workshops, resulting in exhibits showcased at the Unit Playmaking Exhibition in PMQ, which is underway. Helen emphasizes that public participation in the renovation of playgrounds in the next few years is a great learning experience for society.

"We used to have slim to no imagination or expectations for local playgrounds. We could have flown to Okinawa and enjoyed the playgrounds if we wanted fun. Now we can speak out, participate and make changes."

The Unit Playmaking Exhibition displays playground models made by children。

The study revealed that parents perceive children to prefer physical games, whereas children actually enjoy simple games like "Chase Me, Chase You."

Understanding The Game of Sharks

In reality, size does matter compared to playgrounds in other countries and those on the streets of Hong Kong. Kevin is the father of two children, and he said that he has been to the newly opened Coastal PlayGrove in Singapore, which contain a four-story rope net and slides that can provide a lot of fun. He believes that there are many factors governing whether a playground is fun to play in or not. The exhibits in the Unit Playmaking Exhibition show that nearly half of Hong Kong's playgrounds are around 100 to 400 square meters in size. "If fun is measured in having huge slides or not, well, it is nearly impossible to fit one of those in a typical 100square sized playground in Hong Kong." Helen also insists, "Other designs can offer the same thrill as playground slides."

Kevin and his team collected opinions from residents of Tong Mi Road in Yau Tsim Mong District during the Together We Play campaign to conceive ideas for the new design for the Tong Mi Road Playground. "Some children go there to do their homework after school and stay there for at least a couple of hours." The team consolidated the data and discovered that the children at Tong Mi Road Playground spent over half the amount of time in playgrounds compared to children in other districts in Hong Kong. "This reflects the lack of living space at home for those children living around Tong Mi Road. In Hong Kong, public space can be an extension of living space. Some say the playgrounds in Hong Kong are very tiny, but I think it's good to have them distributed in different districts. There is always one nearby you can find." Helen said.

The figures refer to the per capita playground area of Hong Kong, Kwai Tsing District and Berlin

Kevin found out most of the children around the area would go to the Tong Mi Road playground; they gathered to play their self-invented game called The Game of Sharks (similar to play tag). "The rules of that game are super complicated! A playground is a place for children to mingle and gather ideas." Not every playground can breed a game that eventually becomes popular in the neighbourhood, but now, different communities evolved their own version of The Game of Sharks. Kevin said he has to consider this fact while redesigning the playground.

Children playing The Game of Sharks at the Tong Mi Road playground. Image: Together We Play)

Between playground and culture

Many photos can be seen in the Unit Playmaking Exhibition as Together We Play invited more than 300 children to use Lomo cameras to capture scenes in various districts in Hong Kong. "Let the children take photos of fun and beautiful things in the community." Through the eyes of the children, there are images of public facilities, high risers, flowers, and trees. Kevin wants to dive deeper into what playgrounds represent at a cultural level, and he recalls the good times while visiting his grandmother’s home at Tsz Wan Shan on weekends to play on the swings at a nearby playground. Part of his recollection of the area came from such memories, “Besides having fun, I believe playgrounds also have some kind of cultural function.”

"There are three stages in the life cycle of our so-called playground culture. The first stage is planning and design, the second is how it is built and launched, and the third is how the public utilizes it. But ultimately, how a playground is designed? How is it managed after launching for public use? These are the questions the public never paid much attention to in the past." Helen said," We should look thoroughly into the life cycle of any playground around us.”More than 100 playgrounds are to be renewed in Hong Kong, which involves more public participation in the early design stages. Helen believes it is definitely a game changer. "The design of the playgrounds was mostly the designer's personal will plus the experience of government officials, which merely had anything to do with the lives of ordinary citizens. Now, the whole design combines the collective life experience and the imagination of the end users."

The Unit Playful Exhibition showcases urban scenes captured by children.

“Unit Playmaking” – Public Playground Co-creation Exhibition

12 August 2023 (Saturday) – 27 August 2023 (Sunday)

PMQH506 – H507, Hollywood

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