FILE NOTES: Why Playgrounds Should Never Grow Out of Style

In today’s digital age, the realm of children’s play is expanding rapidly into the fourth spatial dimension—the spatial dimension of virtual realities and cyber networks. From books and games to music and crafts, digital technology has converted traditional (physical and haptic) forms of play into digitized formats with user-friendly qualities: mobile, convenient, responsive. Such technological innovations are garnering mass appeal from users young and old; but it is the younger users, those born into the digital revolution, whose early life experiences are increasingly being shaped by the new digital world.

As digital technology becomes more and more pervasive, there ought to be a counterbalance provided by tactile environments such as playgrounds in the case of children. Physical playgrounds, those which are thoughtfully designed and age appropriate, can enhance early childhood development—emotional, social, motor, and cognitive skills—through opportunities for (inter)active play.

Often times, however, playgrounds are only ever viewed from a ground level perspective which privileges the experiential aspect of play over the inner workings of its design. In order to better understand and appreciate the dynamics of space, landscape, and design in the planning of playgrounds, an equally important angle is that of the plan view. Photographer Stefen Chow and economics-trained market researcher Lin Hui-Yi are the creative minds behind The Play Project—“an aerial survey of 100 playgrounds across Singapore”.

Browsing this photographic archive of neighbourhood playgrounds affords fascinating discoveries, precisely because of the novel visual approach employed by Chow and Lin in presenting the physical sites to the viewer. With a bird’s eye vantage point, the shapes and patterns of the various playgrounds are illuminated to reveal the relationship between playscape, greenscape, and hardscape. Paradoxically, the utilization of drone and digital technologies has made it possible for these images to be captured and (re)presented. Yet, through a reverse effect, it is the transfer of new design knowledge into the construction and ultimate use of future play spaces that, ideally, could become the tangible outcome of such a project. And, to this end, championing the need for urban areas to be inclusively planned with children in mind for a city that is favourable to children is a city favourable to all.

Note: All images are sourced from The Play Project website unless otherwise stated.

Figure 1. Location / Tembusu Park, Choa Chu Kang
Figure 2. Location / 650A Jurong West St 61
Figure 3. Location / 55 Havelock Road
Figure 4. Location / 273 Punggol Place