In the past few years, institutions and scholars have advocated for the importance of play spaces in child development. Yet, what happens to play spaces when urban development is mostly led by profit? How can we convince developers that public spaces, green spaces and play spaces are fundamental for a healthy society? The answer is not simple, however it is vital to keep the conversation going to highlight the importance of communal spaces.
In an effort to do just this, we partnered with The Neighbourhood Initiative at the American University of Beirut to design the installation ‘Beirut ♥ Play’ for Beirut Design Week in 2018. The installation aims at advocating for the importance of play in cities and contexts where it is not offered and valued by the public realm.
The installation’s components are based around the topic of play and feature colourful figures engaged in what looks like a playful activity. The figures were made using coloured tiles and were configured through the ‘Tangram’ game. The Tangram, literally meaning “seven boards of skill” (七巧板 in Chinese), is a dissection puzzle consisting of seven flat shapes called tans. The objective of the puzzle is to form a specific shape within an outline or silhouette, ensuring that none of the seven pieces overlaps. By using a game to inform the design, the process sought to embody the meaning of the installation.
The heads of the figures were drawn by the people of the Jeanne D’Arc neighbourhood in Beirut, where the installation was implemented. They were asked to draw something that made them think of play: a memory, a favourite game or perhaps something they used to play with their friends in the neighbourhood. By drawing on their own experiences to inform the installation, participants created a personal piece of artwork that reflected their own memories of the neighbourhood. This was particularly pertinent given the fast-paced changes that had taken place in the neighbourhood in recent years. The children and adults who had participated in these drawing activities felt extremely proud that they had left their mark on one of the walls in their neighbourhood. Through this whole process, which engaged numerous people throughout the community, we were also able to highlight the importance of play, raising awareness of the topic for both participants and passers-by.