The rapid urbanisation of Asia has spurred the growth of play spaces where children and communities can experience, learn and reimagine urban life. This five-part documentary series commissioned by Channel NewsAsia and created by FreeState Productions examines how play spaces impact on the communities they are built for and the urban environments they exist in. Each hour-long episode journeys through playgrounds across Asian cities, including Bangkok, Hanoi, Hong Kong, Sapporo, Seoul, Suncheon, Singapore, Tainan and Taipei.
Dragons are everywhere in Singapore these days. As a pin, a door stopper and a toy rocker. On music album cover, a fashion spread and even an elections manifesto. This mythical animal has become a part of the Singapore story—and it all started with Mr Khor Ean Ghee.
Close to four decades ago, he dreamt up a playground shaped as this Asian symbol while working as an interior designer in the Housing and Development Board (HDB). Mr Khor had been tasked by the agency’s then head honcho Liu Thai Ker to design play spaces for a new generation of public housing that would go beyond providing just a roof over Singaporeans heads.
“The thinking then was to have more local identity and themes. We wanted something different, designs that reflect what we see in Singapore,” recalls the designer who joined HDB in 1969.
Looking back to see the future of Singapore design
Dragons, those harbingers of growth and vitality, are twisting through Singapore once again. A design icon once ubiquitous in this city, the “Singapore dragon” is an angular, pixelated head with one octagonal eye. The rudimentary logo was conceived in the late 1970s, when the former British colony, having gained independence in 1965, was still conjuring an identity.
The dragon was designer Ean Ghee Khor’s response. Tasked to create “Singapore playgrounds” for the government’s massive public housing program, Khor sought to imbue them with the nation’s personality by employing representations of local fruits and animals throughout them. Over the next two decades, across Singapore, it was the lively dragon of Chinese origin that became the playground model of choice. Since the 1990s, however, all but two of Khor’s playgrounds have been replaced by uninspiring, modular plastic units made by multinational playground companies. But of late his serpent is reappearing in a variety of forms.