Category Archives: Justin Zhuang

Bonne fête, Feliz navidad, Happy Birthday, Barka da sabon shekera, Rā Whānau ki a Koe!

It’s a little hard to believe that the first PlayGroundology post, Manhattan’s Bronze Guy, was published five years ago. Based on an interview with American artist Tom Otterness, it features his limited edition sculpture, Playground, which had caught my eye before the Colorado version of the piece adorned Google as a background image.

70179_600x357Playground by Tom Otterness – Google background image. Photo credit – Dick Jackson

Since then, play has become my volunteer vocation much to the delight of our three young kids aged 9, 7 and 5. Along the way, the PlayGroundology blog has won a couple of Canadian blogging awards and racked up readership from over 160 countries. More importantly though, I have had the opportunity to become long distance friends, and in some cases meet, with fine ‘play’ people from Scotland, England the US, Canada, Ghana, Singapore, Japan, Australia and elsewhere.

DSC06210London’s Glamis Adventure Playground from Mark Halden’s presentation at Play Summit in Glasgow, Scotland – April, 2014.

Among the many things that continue to strike me is that this world of play is broad, deep and inter-connected. Passionate parents, educators, professionals in health services, public administration and child care, practitioners, researchers, designers, landscape architects and lay people are amongst the stewards and advocates for children’s inalienable right to play.

Also in that first year, who knew there would be an opportunity to be Going Philatelic in Singapore? Connecting with Justin Zhang for that post resulted in a follow up a couple of years later when his e-book with photography and writing on these culturally attuned playscapes were featured in the blog.

3991913517_4f4a2cf01f_bDragon playground, Singapore. Photo credit – Jerry Wong. License: (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I continue to find joy in sharing public playspaces that break the mould, that boldly present alternatives, speak to place and do not shy away from risk. Early in year two, Alfio Bonanno’s Himmelhøj (Sky High) located on Copenhagen’s Amager Island came to my attention. It is a playspace of place, elemental in a natural setting even in its proximity to urban development.

Alfio Bonnano - CopenhagenThe Amager Ark. Photo courtesy of the artist, Alfio Bonanno

In year three, I discovered Pierre Szkéley and his love of cement. The architect used it to great effect in a number of sculpted playgrounds in France dating back to the 1950s. There is a certain je ne sais quoi about the work, a sense of future forms creating a new physical narrative for kids to explore.

szekelyhay00Pierre Székely’s L’Haÿ-les-Roses, 1958. Photo credit – As-tu dèja oublié?

PlayGroundology’s fourth year continued to explore the intersection of art and play in posts that examined Ann Hamilton’s the event of a thread and Jason Richardson’s Australian playground music – transforming playground equipment into instruments…

Many SwingsPhoto credit – James Ewing. Source – Park Avenue Armory

In PlayGroundology’s fifth year, I fell in love with ‘loose parts’ thanks to friends at Pop-Up Adventure Play, Brendon P. Hyndman’s research in an Australian primary school and the wonderful people at Nova Scotia’s Youth Running Series who provided me with the chance to run my first public play event – oh it was intoxicating…..

loose partsLoose Parts – Nova Scotia Youth Running Series

The blog continues to afford an endless journey of discovery – meeting people, admiring design, becoming familiar with the rudiments of play theory, developing public play activities and of course, playing. I’ve learned that play is under duress in countries around the world including the post-industrial economies. I’ve met with great generosity of spirit and experienced passionate engagement on behalf of kids with play people players of many nationalities. It seems there is a renaissance of play underway with resilience and risk advancing in tandem. Play matters…

I want to thank PlayGroundology’s readers for your comments, kind words, story ideas. I plan to be sharing stories of great play happenings for another five years and hope you’ll be able to join in.

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Playground Menagerie

We are the only species that sets aside dedicated space to be used exclusively for play by our young. But in many countries throughout the world humans are not the only ones populating playgrounds.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPlayground in Sofia, Bulgaria. Source: Snezhka Karatoteva.

It’s as if some of Noah’s precious charges were peppered across playscapes to watch over and amuse the human young. There are African and Australian animals from the wild, barnyard favourites and mythical creatures.

DragonDragon playground with designer Mr. Khor in Toa Payoh, Singapore. Source: Mosaic Memories – Remembering the Playgrounds Singapore Grew Up In by Justin Zhuang.

The playground animals serve multiple roles – slides, teeter-totters, climbers and springriders. They are also a friendly reminder that there is a natural world for us to engage with and care for.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPlayground in Sofia, Bulgaria. Source: Snezhka Karatoteva.

There are more great photos from Zemen, Bulgaria to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia in the PlayGroundology curated gallery ‘Animal Farm’ right here.

Editor’s note – thanks to Snezhka Karatoteva from Sofia, Bulgaria who recently dropped in on the PlayGroundology FB Page and offered to share playground photos with PlayGroundology readers. Check the blog here.

I’ll take a Singapore Swing with a Twist of Mosaic

A couple of years back when PlayGroundology was still in its infancy, my imagination was sparked by a chance encounter with a set of commemorative stamps from Singapore. Of all things wild and wonderful that stamps can and do depict, this set of six put playgrounds in a starring role (see Going Philatelic in Singapore).

Mosaic Dragon with Designer Mr Khor Ean Ghee. Source: Mosaic Memories: Remembering the Playgrounds Singapore Grew Up In.

Right away I knew I wanted to share this find with PlayGroundology’s readers. The mosaic playgrounds that featured designs with local cultural references were of most interest – dragons, pelicans, elephants, tortoises and more. I started following a number of google trails and it wasn’t long before Justin Zhang’s name percolated to the top. Justin had published a couple of articles on Singapore’s public play spaces that passionately documented an indigenous playground vibe. They were invaluable references for Playgroundology’s first Asian story.

Thankfully for all of us interested in playgroundabilia Justin has maintained his interest in the ‘old’ playgrounds of his childhood and recently published a 43-page e-book commissioned by the Singapore Memory ProjectMosaic Memories: Remembering the Playgrounds Singapore Grew Up In. Through the eyes of four players, readers get a composite view of a homegrown playground story that developed in tandem with Singapore’s housing estates in the 1970s and 80s.

Light Painting – Mr Fong Qi Wei. Source: Mosaic Memories: Remembering the Playgrounds Singapore Grew Up In.

Meet Khor Ean Ghee the interior designer cum iconic playground creator whose playful designs have provided fun and memories for generations of Singaporean kids. Photographer, artist, and entrepreneur Antoinette Wong has mounted a photo exhibit of the old playgrounds during Singapore’s Fringe Festival and created wearable art depicting the playgrounds that are available from her little dröm store.

Fong Qi Wei paints the light fantastic. The Pelican Playground was the set for his first foray into painting with light. He even re-created the two swings that had gone missing since he had played there as a child. For Fong each of the seven playgrounds he has lit up is a three dimensional canvas that comes alive at night.

Photo Credit – Antoinette Wong. Source: Mosaic Memories: Remembering the Playgrounds Singapore Grew Up In.

Playgrounds are a family affair for Lim Chee Peng. He loves excursions with his wife and two daughters to play outdoors far from the madding noise and crowds. The old playgrounds are a link back to his childhood a place to breathe, stretch and have fun.

Four perspectives on Singapore’s old playgrounds. Will there be a swell of popular sentiment to preserve some of the 20 remaining playgrounds to ensure that the mosaic animals don’t become extinct?

These are lovely grassroots stories that situate playgrounds within a broader social and cultural context. Pop in for a read of Justin’s e-book…

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Drop a line if you know of other culturally specific public play spaces.

Going Philatelic in Singapore

Singapore Post recently gave a hats off to playgrounds with a special issue of commemorative stamps. The news release lists the six playgrounds featured on the stamps and extols the virtues of play in developing social skills and physical coordination.

The Toa Payoh Dragon Head Playground (50¢) is thought to be one of the last of its kind in Singapore. In Asian cultures, dragons are auspicious and have historically been identified as emblems of China’s emperors and their high ranking court members.

The tiled dragon sandlot playgrounds now seem destined for extinction – a cruel and ironic fate for a mythical creature that symbolizes power and ascendancy in the heavens. Unlike European and North American cousins – Tolkien’s Smaug, or Peter, Paul and Mary’s Puff – it’s doubtful that these dragons of play will be eternally enshrined in Singapore’s popular culture.

Writer and designer Justin Zhuang is taking a particular interest in Singapore’s older playground stock as evidenced in his recent CNN Go report Playing with dragons — Singapore’s playgrounds of the past. He laments the passing of these unique playspaces and continues to comment on Singapore’s playgrounds past and present.

Our playgrounds today are cookie-cutter and instructive — climb up, slide down… then repeat the cycle again. The designs leave children with very little to imagine and explore. With its generic look and conservative safety standards, the playground is designed to be safe for everyone but fun for no one.

Justin Zhuang

It’s time to come out and play was originally published in Singapore Architect #252 and his flickr photos set Old Singapore Playgrounds (18 images) is a growing documentary record.

If you live in Singapore, or are fortunate enough to visit, Justin has created a handy Google Map identifying the whereabouts of the playgrounds that he and his contemporaries loved to play in while growing up.

Some of the playgrounds are visible using the street view function. By clicking through and peeking in, it’s almost like you can hear the bustle of the city. Safety concerns are amongst the primary reasons cited for the phasing out of these uniquely sculptured spaces. In other jurisdictions, concerned citizens have banded together to preserve similar play areas and have them designated as heritage and historical resources. PlayGroundology will share more about this creative strategy in a future post.

The National Library of Singapore has posted a small collection of photos celebrating playgrounds. The library has created a short slide show that pays tribute to vanishing stock and documents the newer playgrounds that are replacing older, local designs. Thanks to sgpix for her assistance in preparing the material so it could be included in this post.

The photos in the slide show are also available as a flicker set with captions – Playgrounds, in Singapore (24 images) – which is part of the much larger Singapore National Album of Pictures.

Scene This Scene That has blogged three of the five remaining playground locations – Sengkang Sculpture Park (65¢), Pasir Ris Park ($1.10), and the West Coast Park (1st Local).

Parents appreciate the play spaces at Vivo City (85¢) one of Singapore’s largest retail complexes. With numerous play stations and a water park area it’s an ideal spot for the kids to get away from shopping mayhem and cool off.
Thanks to xcode for the Vivo City snap. He’s also a bit of a playground buff and is building his own Playground flickr set (95 images).

In addition to the flora and fauna, the Hindhede Nature Park ($2.00) offers a rustic playground experience. Equipment constructed from logs is attuned to the surrounding natural environment. Tire swings are a reminder that the congestion of the city is not too far away. A few flickr photos can be found here.

In the Singapore city-state there is a playground nostalgia in the air. People reminisce about sand, tiled mosaics and the relevant local designs of their youth. Will the remaining older playgrounds just fade away like a puff of dragon’s breath or will there be a move to preserve and maintain the more interesting designs? Perhaps a new cultural aesthetic will emerge that incorporates distinctly Singaporean traits into the playground experience and cultivates another generation of parents and kids who are passionate about their playspaces.

Thanks to Singapore Post for inspiring these few words and thanks to those who provided images. I’ve been looking for commemorative postage stamps of playgrounds from other jurisdictions but have come up empty. If you’re aware of any please drop me a line.

Image credits in order of appearance.

    1. Singapore Post
    2. hsalnat – Lash Tan
    3. National Library of Singapore
    4. xcode – Jerry Wong
    5. Singapore Post

All materials, unless otherwise attributed or credited, copyright ⓒ 2010 Alex Smith.

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