Category Archives: Local Design

Ship to Shore on Canada’s Magdalen Islands

Years ago I was one of about 15 people in communities across Nova Scotia documenting the province’s built heritage. We took photos, did title deed searches and wrote up architectural descriptions for all buildings erected before 1914 in our respective towns. This was the first time I heard the word ‘vernacular’ associated with something other than language.

DSC07545Acadian colours fishing boat – L’Étang-du-Nord

Vernacular architecture is based on local needs, uses local materials and reflects local realities. It is of the place. Vernacular was on the tip of my tongue when the kids and I first went to the playgrounds in the Magdalen Islands (Les Iles de la Madeleine) in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Our first trip we discovered a couple of these gems – the antithesis to off the shelf play solutions. In subsequent trips we found more. Invariably the construction material is wood and not surprisingly on Les Iles, boats are the dominant theme. These are the playgrounds we fell in love with, the ones we rush to each time we visit. I hope you’ll enjoy our photos from the beaches, schools and fishing ports of the Magdalen Islands in this Storehouse collection

DSC01627Plage de la Grande Échouerie – Click through on pic for Storehouse photo collection.

We had an old boat, The Halcyon, on the Halifax waterfront for close on 20 years before it had to be removed. It was in the same league as these Magdalen Island playgrounds – sturdy, simple, well built and packed with adventure for kids.

DSC08352The Halcyon, Halifax waterfront, circa 2010

I’m interested in hearing more about vernacular playgrounds. Give me a shout or send me some photos if there’s one in your neighbourhood.

Chilean Miners Playground – Industrial Ingenuity

Otherworldly with a touch of the surreal describes some unique play structures that sit quietly in Chuquicamata, a former mining town in northern Chile. Located in the Atacama desert, the most arid on the planet, Chuqui is encircled by foothills of slag and tailings from nearly 100 years of mineral exploitation. The small town was an oasis of humanity surrounded by industrial waste on a massive scale. The community was shut down in 2007 because of significant environmental degradation. The people of Chuqui were relocated to Calamar although mining continues at what is the world’s largest open pit copper operation.

Hats off again to flickr and its contributing photographers. A search for ‘juegos infantiles’ pulled up a few thousand photos from South America, Spain and Portugal. These are the jewels – heavy gauge playground equipment from an abandoned town. Many thanks to Carlos Borlone Leuquén aka Mi otra carne in flickrville for sharing these photos.

We’ll never see equipment like this coming out of the Little Tikes design labs. This industrial folklore speaks to beauty through transforming a harsh landscape, to ingenuity through using materials at hand, to love through creating a space like no other to dream and play. This is innovative design infused with poetic vision.

There were other playgrounds in Chuqui with the standard swings and slides and roundabouts but nothing else as imaginative as these pieces.

Check here for more Chuqui playground structures.

Chile’s Nobel Laureate poet, Pablo Neruda writes starkly of Chuqui and the political struggles associated with mining in a poem included in the Canto General collection written decades prior to the nationalization of the mine by the Allende government.

Anaconda Mining Co.

Name of a coiled snake,
insatiable gullet, green monster,
in the clustered heights,
in my country’s rarefied
saddle, beneath the moon
of hardness–excavator–
you open the mineral’s
lunar craters, the galleries
of virgin copper, sheathed
in its granite sands.

In Chuquicamata’s eternal
night, in the heights,
I’ve seen the sacrificial fire burn,
the profuse crackling
of the cyclops that devoured the Chileans’ hands, weight
and waist, coiling them
beneath its copper vertebrae,
draining their warm blood,
crushing their skeletons
and spitting them out in the
desolate desert wastelands.

Air resounds in the heights
of starry Chuquicamata.
The galleries annihilate
the planet’s resistance
with man’s little hands,
the gorges’ sulphuric bird
trembles, the metal’s
iron cold mutinies
with its sullen scars,
and when the horns blast
the earth swallows a procession
of minuscule men who descend
to the crater’s mandibles.

They’re tiny captains,
my nephews, my children,
and when they pour the ingots
toward the seas, wipe
their brows and return shuddering
to the uttermost chill,
the great serpent eats them up,
reduces them, crushes them,
covers them with malignant spittle,
casts them out to the roads,
murders them with police,
sets them to rot in Pisagua,
imprisons them, spits on them,
buys a trecherous president
who insults and persecutes them,
kills them with hunger on the plains
of the sandy immensity.

And on the infernal slopes
there’s cross after twisted cross,
the only kindling scattered
by the tree of mining.

As Chuqui was being shut down, Jay Heinz shot a documentary Chuqui: The Life and Death of Mining Town.

Now world attention is focused on another Chilean mine and the well being of 33 miners trapped 700 metres underground at the San José mine in Copiapo. Their rescue is still weeks if not months away. May all go well for these brave men and their families.

All photos by C. Leuquén aka Mi otra carne.

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

If you’re a non-profit or not-for-profit group, feel free to hyperlink, excerpt, or reproduce the contents of this post. Please reference PlayGroundology. For commercial reproduction of this content, please consult the editor.

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. 1.

Singapore Post

    1. 2.

hsalnat – Lash Tan

    1. 3.

National Library of Singapore

    1. 4.

xcode – Jerry Wong

    1. 5.

Singapore Post

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

If you’re a non-profit or not-for-profit group, feel free to hyperlink, excerpt, or reproduce the contents of this post. Please reference PlayGroundology. For commercial reproduction of this content, please consult the editor.