Over the years, PlayGroundology has received lots of wonderful comments from readers and play enthusiasts around the world. It is a real pleasure to think that in some small ways the blog is helping to inspire people to advocate for a greater variety of public play spaces for kids. Today, a comment arrived from Hong Kong regarding a post published in 2012.
I lived near this park. I was born in 1969, the same year as this park opened. These sculptures accompanied me since I was born, until I was 16. They were then too old and replaced by new playground facilities.
The most fascinating thing about this playground is that it was composed of 4 different sand pools. Kids built sand castles there everyday. Besides, those sculptures possessed secret holes and spaces where kids could play hide and seek. A kid could hide himself inside a sculpture so secretly that no one could discover him within 10 minutes. Amazed?
Every night, lovers would hide themselves inside those “holes”, kissing each other and ………..
These park brought me a marvelous childhood, wonderful memory!!!!!!
An article was published earlier today in Hong Kong about this playground from the past. I don’t read, or speak Chinese but for those who do, the article is reproduced below with some lovely photos.
Damon Leung kindly provided the English translation which follows the original HK01 article.
原來它的設計者，正是一位熱心藝術教育、曾經在香港工作的美國藝術家。樊樂怡指出：「照片僅有的文字解說，提到它位處石籬徙置屋邨，在1969年建成時，是在亞洲唯一有、該類型的遊樂場，由美國藝術家Paul Selinger所造，當時的皇家賽馬會捐了$15萬元建成……網上暫時可找到的資料，也大概是這些。」年報上的資料也說明，Paul Selinger將香港視為第一站，更希望這個前所未有的遊樂場， 還可在別的地方繼續出現，他希望當中的建設，既是可被觀賞的雕塑作品，也是可讓人遊玩的新類型設施。
「暫時可進一步找到的資料不多，其中，那位藝術家(Paul Selinger)回到美國後，曾寫過一封信給一本叫Rotarian的雜誌，行文中對在香港建的遊樂場十分自豪，還批評美國不夠香港開放。」Selinger在這封題為《美國遊樂場：有限的視野》的信中這樣寫：「作為一個剛好在香港居住和工作過的美國人，我有機會在石籬實踐我的設計意念，我懷疑，在美國這就不可能實現。我回來後跟在頂尖美國建築行的園景建築師談過，就更確信是如此。他們抱怨要不斷倒出模華而不實的設計去滿足欠缺視野的市政官員。我的意念可在香港被證明是成功的，因為我被給予藝術自由，去將它們實現。……我回來(三藩市灣區) 後發現與公園和公務相關的官員、還有建築師，只會在現成的目錄中選一些不同顏色、但同款的設施放在遊樂場裡……要說服決策者設計遊樂場時，想像力是重要的，才可讓情況改變。」
Author: Wong Yu Hin, founder of the Urban Creation Laboratory
Last Sunday, the visitors of the West Kowloon Cultural District would see dozens of photographs and their detailed explanations along the railings of the waterfront. It was a part of the community art program “Kwai Chung Festival”. Organization (MaD), together with the neighbours of Kwai Tsing, showcased the community cultures of Kwai Chung and Tsing Yi in the West Kowloon in various creative ways. The setup consisted of Kwai Tsing historical photos was designed and developed by the art planner Fan Lokbi and her colleagues. During the exhibition everyone was amazed on four photos as she expected. They showed that Kwai Chung had a very avant-garde playground 50 years ago and everything started with the discovery of these few photos.
How the unknown avant-garde playground was discovered?
“Kwai Chung Festival” was a program organized by District Councils and MaD jointly. Fan Lokbi remembered that during a meeting with district counselors, she was informed that there had been a Wah Tak Studio in Kwai Chung before. So when she was looking for historical pictures of Kwai Tsing District, she would pay special attention to whether there was any trace of Wah Tak Studio and later she got an unexpected reward.
She went to the Image Library of the Information Office to check the color photos in the annual reports. “I had turned over each year until I turned to 1969, I saw six exotic playground photos. They were so colorful. I was shocked by one of the playground photo. The Wah Tak Studio, I have long been looking for, was shown at the lower right corner of that photo. That meaned the colorful playground was located in Kwai Chung.
Fan Lokbi, who was engaged in the art, met this unfamous playground along the path of Kwai Tsing to Wah Tak Studio, and to the Hong Kong annual report. Familiar with Kwai Chung geography and architectures, she found no information about the playground on the Internet after a little search. She knew that this might be a big discovery.
Facilities can not be classified as slides or swings but more like sculptures.
A few photos brought a clue about an importnt page in the art histories of Hong Kong and its amusement area. Everyone is complaining about the playground facilities getting backwards today. However, in addition to the old styles of playgrounds shown in the nostalgic discussion groups, Hong Kong amusement area in fact have had a very different page before. Photos showed the playground, of which the four large-scale recreational facilities were difficult to classify as slide or swing. They were more like large modern sculptures, abstract, simple, just like surrealist works. Some were even like postmodern designs. In addition to the rare sculpture design, the hillside behind the playground also was treated as a canvas and painted with simple abstract drawings. The layout of this “sculpture playground” was clearly full of artistic ideas.
Its designer, who was enthusiastic about art education and had worked in Hong Kong, was an American artist. Fan Lokbi pointed out, “The only text explanation of the photo mentioned that it is located in the Shek Lei resettlement estate. Built in 1969, this type of playground was the only one in Asia made by American artist Paul Selinger. At that time the Royal HK Jockey Club donated HK$150,000 to build it. Online information about the playground is probably the same as these.” The information on the annual report also showed that Paul Selinger regarded Hong Kong as the first stop and hoped that this unprecedented playground would keep appearing in other places. He also hoped that the construction could be viewed as sculpture works and also be a new type of facilities to let people amaze.
Designed by American Artist, “Artistic Freedom” was given by Hong Kong to realize his ideas.
“In the online and community history, almost no information about it. In fact Hong Kong had such an avant-garde playground, which synchronized the trend of Europe and the United States at that moment.” Fan Lokbi found that the world’s famous blog Playgroundology, which studied the playground design as a new social science, had talked about this park on its website. Playgroundology encountered related information in the United Kingdom national archives. From the information its location was known as “colonial Kowloon”. Playgroundology received even less information than Fan Lokbi, so no study followed of course. Knowing Playgroundology asked for more relevant information, she shared the information found accidentally with their experts.
“There is not much further information available. After the artist (Paul Selinger) returned to the United States, he had written a letter to a magazine called Rotarian. He was proud of the playground in Hong Kong and criticized the United States for being less open to Hong Kong.” In the letter entitled “American Playground: A Limited Vision” Selinger wrote, “As an American who lived and worked in Hong Kong, I had the opportunity to realize my design ideas in Shek Lei. I doubted if this could be achieved in the United States. I talked with the landscaped architects at the top American architecture after I came back, the case was even more so. They complained that they should continue to pour out the meeless design to meet those municipal officials who lacked vision. My ideas proved successful in Hong Kong because I was given the freedom of art to realize them. After I came back (San Francisco Bay Area), I found the officials associated with the park and civil service, as well as architects, would only choose some different colors but the same facilities on the playground from the ready-made catalog. To convince policymakers during the design of a playground, imagination was important in order to make the situation change.”
Hong Kong playground as a new page of the global post-war building trend.
In order to let more people understand this imagination which Hong Kong to be proud of, Fan Lokbi began a small research program, an official study of this almost incredible playground in Hong Kong, “Because the initial information was too little, I would like to visit the neighborhoods of Shek Lei, the HD, District Council members, Paul Selinger’s co-workers in Hong Kong and even his family.”
The only information showed that Paul Selinger, who died at the end of 2015, taught art at the University of Hong Kong since 1961. Soon after the concept of the avant-garde playground was implemented, he returned to the United States in 1969. Searching for the playground information today, in addition to the pursuit of such a “miracle” Hong Kong had before, the city was lamented for the avant-garde space nearly 50 years ago which was no longer there today. Not only as initiatives to build more creative public playgrounds, but also to reproduce a small piece of puzzle in the history of the world’s modern playgrounds.
After the Second World War, innovative young students and artists in Europe and the United States were actively engaged in public utilities for the people and contributed to a large number of avant-garde and whimsical designs. These designs were implemented in public buildings, especially in the design of public housing, public spaces and public facilities. The playground was a particularly experimental page. Many “rugged” pioneer playgrounds came into being, so far were still fascinating the world. But it was unexpected that a Hong Kong’s resettlement estate would use abstract sculptures as the theme and had connected to the history of avant-garde playground since 1969.