Playgrounds don’t often find their way into urban planning studies, but recently a set of “old school” playgrounds in Singapore has become quite popular, inspiring works of art, a digital book, design products, and more importantly a conversation about how these spaces allow children and adults to image. Unlike other spaces in a city, playgrounds are specifically designed for children, yet as one landscape architect friend recently noticed, they are often enjoyed by all age groups. If we really pay attention to the use of a playground we will see adults and children alike using these spaces.
As a child of a somewhat wooded suburb, playgrounds to me were only associated with school. But as I grew older I recall retreating to the playgrounds in our downtown parks as I hung out with friends. Although there was plenty of other “urban furniture” designed for teenagers and adults, the empty swings were just much more alluring than the benches facing the playground. I’m not quite sure what it is that draws us to playgrounds but I have to believe that sense of delight from swinging does not diminish with age (as the upper age limits on most playgrounds may suggest).
As for these playgrounds in Singapore they are special because they are designed based on distinct items or ideas from Singapore and the region. The book “Mosaic Memories: Remembering the Playgrounds Singapore Grew Up In” documents a few of these inspirational playgrounds through interviews with the original designer and profiles of recent creative works that have been inspired by these playgrounds. Here is an excerpt:
“The thinking then was to have more local identity and themes. We wanted something different, designs that reflect what we see in Singapore,” explains Mr Khor. He took inspiration from Singapore’s culture and history, transforming the bumboat and rickshaw into play spaces for instance.”
Excerpts from the book “Mosaic Memories”
This weekend I finally took sometime to see one of these playgrounds that I had read so much about, a “baby dragon” in MacPherson. I used this map also compiled through the Singapore Memory Project to track it down. Unfortunately I also just learned that two of my favorite old playgrounds (based on the photos I had seen) have been “replaced.” These being the Watermelon in MacPherson and the Pelican in Dover. Although it maybe inevitable that one day all of these beautiful works of art may be replaced due to safety concerns, I am delighted that there are still a few left in Singapore for adults and children to enjoy and to inspire other works of art in Singapore.
All photos are from the “Mosaic Memories” book by the Singapore Memories project except for the last photo which is by the author.