Monthly Archives: November 2013

South Africa wins international PLAYscapes competition

Building Trust International recently announced the winners of their international design competition PLAYscapes and South Africa’s Cape Town Gardens Skatepark project came out winner in the professional category.  The project description says:

“Gardens is a residential neighbourhood of Cape Town situated south of the Central Business District and at the foot of Table Mountain. The Vacant Area below the Jutland Avenue Bridge has been an eyesore and problem for quite a few years now. An initiative to transform this vacant public space into something that will benefit the community and solve some of the issues has been undertaken and that resulted in the current project. The hope is that this project will set precedent for the use of many of the vacant spaces below City of Cape Town Bridges and off-ramps. It is hoped that Cape Town Gardens Skatepark will be a flagship project which will stimulate the proliferation of similar initiatives across the metropolitan region and cities in South Africa. The project is intelligent in its re-use of space transforming an under used and blighted underpass into a community led skate park.”


Image: Building Trust International

This is a fantastic win which “seeks to set a precedent for similar enterprises”.  We would hope that we can see similar initiatives in areas that are in more need of social development than an area like Gardens, not to steal their thunder, it is a fantastic project, but as outlined in my earlier post we desperately need spaces like this for young people in underserviced, lower income areas.

There were some amazing proposals in the competition and I’ve selected my favourite which show what is possible to transform underused spaces into playful, creative and unifying hubs.


(Image: Building Trust International)

Bom(PLAY), Mumbai proposes a ‘play-corridor’ to be built around a pipeline which runs through the middle of Mumbai.  The corridor will provide for different activities “adapted to suit the needs of the city- scape and its local inhabitants”.  Features include a skate park, picnic areas, ping pong tables, fitness trail, art exhibition wall and a playground.  The project team say  “the city has the potential to be really fun, with a long waterfront, many rivers, a lot of trees, and a very enthusiastic population.”

bridge - jeru

(Image: Building Trust International)

The Bridge of Coexistence, Jerusalem “includes the active participation of both the Jewish and Arab residents who joined together with a mutual dream of making a better place for their children to play and establishing a communal space for leisure; a place that could provide an opportunity for building a bridge of coexistence and raze a blessed horizon of understanding and joint action .  The project strives to convert the empty yard to an appealing and inspiring space for children; a place which creates a real bridge between the two communities and encourage the common game, dialogue and acceptance of the other”


london zipline

(Image: Building Trust International)

The Urban Zipline, London – “aims it to retrofit the value of an unused longstanding feature of the urban landscape and turn it into an urban playscape. London, as a dominant city during the industrial revolution, is full of chimneys from this era. For the project a 21-meter red-brick sewer vent shaft of 1906 was chosen as the site. The proposal is to transform a chimney into an urban playscape that will offer the excitement of flying above the city skyline. The chimney zip line will bring life to the neglected green space around it by attracting visitors and residents, as well as new activities around it.”


(Image: Building Trust International)

Sliding Puzzle, São Paulo is a fun public art/play installation.  Millions of people take public transportation every day, spending an average of three hours on traffic to commute between home and work. Every time someone waits for transport, they have to spend 20 minutes waiting. Why not take that time and turn it into something more useful to the people into the city? The proposal is an idea to stimulate people’s art knowledge through a simple game that can be easily played within those 20 minutes. Even if not finished, whatever is displayed can already be considered art. Whoever plays with it is not only having fun but making the city prettier and becomes an artist themselves , as every time someone plays, a new drawing is created and a new art piece comes to life.



My friend Rushay recently sent me a youtube link to a video (which I cannot embed!) shot by his friend Xolile who runs the Fingo Festival in Grahamstown.  It’s such an interesting piece of footage, which I think tells a hundred stories.  I like what Xolile says ‘If you don’t do something they will find something to do – This shows we need to build Play Parks in the Grahamstown Townships; Otherwise you will see more of the useful things like these water tanks (which are used as a backup when there is no running water in taps) being wasted away’. 


The kids found a novel use for the water tanks, climbing in and on top precariously……..

the 'park ranger' arrives on the scene dispersing the children

They begin to disperse when an adult in uniform (park ranger?) arrives on the scene……


 ‘ranger’ picks up a rock…….


and proceeds to chase the kids, behind a hill, out of sight…I wonder how this all ended???

At first when I watched this my initial reaction was, what an imaginative use of a water tank this was…at the end when the ‘ranger’ appears I felt is this how we treat our children who are ‘just playing’?  Then I think about service delivery issues and the facts Xolile raises in his comments.

Apart from the service delivery and child rights issues what for me was most interesting about this clip was HOW the children were playing and what a fun piece of play equipment a water tank can be.  Let’s discount for a minute that what they are playing with is stolen property (!) and look at how they are playing and how much fun this looks like.  I just think it is inspiration for playground designers, urban planners and the like to see that children will find a play opportunity with anything in the surrounding environment and that risk is such a vital part of playing.

We need a child oriented approach to designing play spaces and I think this gives a good clue as to what children find fun – risk, adventure, freedom, a playful sense of danger.  We need to move beyond primary coloured steel structures and wooden jungle gyms!   There are many of us who are ready to rise to this challenge to provide stimulating play spaces etc but we need support and buy in from the public sector to allocate the space and fund where possible and from the private sector to help with reinvesting much needed funds in such spaces.   Play needs to move up the ladder in funding priorities, playing for children is as integral as nutrition, housing, sanitation and I think this footage highlights that we cant see it as either or,  we need partners in development to recognise the importance of play…they are never ‘just playing’.

PLAY AFRICA CHILDREN’S MUSEUM – a place to play, learn and dream

Whilst we’ve had quite a challenging year setting up a new organisation, trying to find a home for the Hummingbird Children’s Centre and juggling day jobs, the upside of this process has been connecting with people working in the field, kindred spirits who have a passion for play, learning and design for children.  One of those people is Gretchen Wilson-Prangley, founder of PLAY AFRICA Children’s Museum.  Our projects are both in similar phases, trying to find a nest, or rightful place in the city where “South Africa’s children and families come together to play, learn and dream.”cropped-play-africa

I am really excited about the Museum which promises to be:

“An exciting and world-class institution to offer play-based and informal educational experiences to children age 1 to 10 and their families, as well as schools. From our flagship site in Johannesburg, we expect to serve at least 200,000 visitors a year, and we aim to become one of the most treasured public institutions in South Africa.

PLAY AFRICA is where play and learning meet, and our sensational exhibits expose young children to maths, science, literacy, and the arts. Our facility and programmes are accessible to all South Africans. Key to our concept is that all children and visitors are treated with equal value and dignity, regardless of gender, race, language, nationality, religion, family income, family structure, or physical or mental disability. 

PLAY AFRICA is a social enterprise. We have developed an innovative, entrepreneurial business model as a non-profit company run with the efficiency and rigor of a corporate business. We are proudly South African, and prioritise local businesses and services providers in all of our efforts.”

brooklyn CM

Water play at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, the world’s first (Image: NY Daily News)

According to wikipedia the world’s first children’s museum was the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, founded in 1899.  By 1975, there were approximately 38 children’s museums in the United States. An staggering 210 museums opened between 1976 and 2007, and as of 2007, it was estimated that approximately 80 children’s museums in the planning phase.

Museo de los ninos Caracas Latin America's first museum for children opened its doors in 1982

Museo de los Niñnos Caracas – Latin America’s first children’s museum opened its doors in 1982 (Image:

The children’s museum concept spread worldwide – In Europe Le Musée des Enfants in Brussels was started in 1978, Eureka! the National Children’s Museum in Halifax, UK was established in 1992 and Austria’s ZOOM Children’s Museum in Vienna, in 1994.  The Children’s Museum of Caracas, Venezuela, became Latin America’s first museum for children when it opened in 1982, followed by the Children’s Museum of Bogotá, Colombia, in 1986.  In Asia the Museo Pambata in Manila opened in 1994 and Korea’s first children’s museum Seoul opened in 1995.  Time to put Africa on the map!  

Below are some images from Children’s Museums around the world and we cannot wait for Africa’s first to arrive.  Good luck to the team at PLAY AFRICA! 

Madison Children's Museum, Wisconsin

The lovely rooftop garden at Madison’s Children’s Museum, USA (Image: Building Trust International)


Soft play and construction (AND destruction!) at Seoul’s Children’s Museum (Image: Kids Fun In Seoul)

Soft play and construction (AND destruction!) at Seoul’s Children’s Museum (Image: Kids Fun In Seoul)

Interactive installations at the Discover Children's Story Centre, London (Image: Playing by the book)

Interactive installations at the Discover Children’s Story Centre, London (Image: Playing by the book)

The ‘EatSleepPlay’ exhibition which featured around 70 interactive exhibits at Children’s Museum of Manhattan (Image: New York Times)

The ‘EatSleepPlay’ exhibition which featured around 70 interactive exhibits at Children’s Museum of Manhattan (Image: New York Times)