Fascinating playgrounds in S'pore that will make you wish you were a kid again

Cheryl Lin
The Straits Times
16 July 2016

Earlier this month, families flocked to Marine Cove at East Coast Park in droves while children thronged its newly opened playground.

Outfitted with an array of inclusive play elements, the nautical- themed play area caters to children of different ages and diverse abilities, making it a draw for many kids. The result was lines of tots queuing for play equipment and jams along rope bridges.

If you fancy a less crowded playground for your young ones, here are five of the more interesting public ones across the island, that have more than just simple swings and slides.

The Straits Times speaks to local playground specialists - who supply, install and sometimes design play equipment - about the design considerations behind these neighbourhood landmarks. They are engaged by bodies such as the National Park Boards (NParks), the Urban Redevelopment Authority and town councils.

These specialists import a majority of their equipment from the United States and Europe, often mixing and matching equipment to fit their clients' budgets and concepts. They also sometimes custom-build play equipment for more creative projects.

NParks was unable to respond to queries about the cost of playgrounds by press time.

All playgrounds here must comply with local safety guidelines laid down in SS 457, the Singapore safety standard for outdoor playground equipment.

The equipment should be weather-proof and strong enough to withstand heavy usage by children and the weight of parents who may accompany their children.

All playground designers aim to stimulate children's development, says Mr Kenneth Kutska, executive director of the International Playground Safety Institute in the US and an expert in playground safety.

Says Mr Kutska, who has worked with playground specialist company CT-Art Creation here: "All the elements of a well-designed play area work together to provide settings for social exchange, problem-solving scenarios and physiological growth. And, best of all, they're cleverly disguised as fun."

West Coast Park

West Coast Park has been the stalwart playground of the west since opening in 1999.

However, it can still hold its own against newer playgrounds, thanks to its arsenal of adventurous play equipment that even teenagers find fun.

The 600 sq m playground houses a host of obstacle courses, such as a flying fox, balancing beams and a giant rope pyramid which, at 9.3m tall, is one of the largest in Singapore.

Student Sabrina Faisal, 19, says: "It's not just a playground for kids. I can see its appeal to everyone because some of the equipment is quite challenging, but also very fun."

There is an entire section for toddlers, including a mini fire engine and a Viking ship.

A few companies have worked on the playground over the years, adding new sections via renovation works.

Mr Patrick Lee, 52, director of CT-Art Creation, the agency that first developed the playground, says it caters to children of different ages.

Children aged two to five have lower centres of gravity and are shorter, so equipment with lower heights are more suitable for them. Handrails which are within their reach are installed on these play elements and steps are less steep.

As toddlers prefer imaginative play, equipment with designs that resemble real-life vehicles, such as the fire engine, also appeal to them.

Those aged five to 12 prefer more physically challenging and problem- solving tasks, hence the giant rope pyramid and balancing beams.

But safety always comes first.

Mr Lee says: "One must understand children's behaviour. When they play, they will take risks. The most important thing is to ensure there are no hazards such as entanglement, entrapment, falls and sharp edges."

Tiong Bahru Park

Visitors to this playground get to go on a train ride with a difference. The locomotive here features five cabins tilting at different angles, along with rope elements, climbing equipment and slides within the train.

Mr Kenny Chua, 51, director of playground specialist Swan-Li, which developed the park's 900 sq m playground, says: "The angles give a disorientating effect and make it exciting and challenging for kids."

First opened in 1967, Tiong Bahru Park was redeveloped in 2000 with the theme of "Old Frame, New Images". The train was then built in line with a concept by a landscape consultant engaged by the National Parks Board (NParks).

During the design stage, Swan-Li sought advice from teaching staff at Nanyang Polytechnic School of Design and School of Engineering.

Mr Chua says: "Its team of experts worked with our in-house designers to come up with the final design. We then developed it using 3-D modelling software, made a scale model and presented it to NParks."

The final train design was also checked for playground safety compliance before being built.

"It's one of the few customised themed playgrounds in Singapore and children like these. My hope is that we can have more customised and adventurous playgrounds for them to explore," adds Mr Chua.

Other themed playgrounds in Singapore include the rainforest treehouse playground at Gardens by the Bay; a dinosaur-themed playground at Block 827 Woodlands Street 82; and an animal kingdom playground at Block 686 Woodlands Drive 73.

Yishun River Green

Yishun residents have an art installation of a playground to let their children run around in.

The Yishun River Green playground, located at Block 330 Yishun Ring Road, features the Mini Pool, an art installation involving 16 pads on the ground that light up and change colour when they are stepped on.

The work is by Jen Lewin, a light sculptor based in the United States whose work was displayed at the 2014 edition of i Light Marina Bay, a light art festival that emphasises sustainability and energy-saving measures.

Her art caught the eye of Playpoint, the playground specialist which developed the play area commissioned by the Nee Soon Town Council.

Mr Jason Sim, 40, Playpoint's managing director, says: "We felt her concept was innovative and the future of play should go in that direction."

Complementing the 480 sq m playground's whimsical theme are three crooked houses that seem to have been plucked straight out of a children's book by, say, Dr Seuss. They were designed by Monstrum, a Danish playground design company.

There is also a kinetics hammock trellis - a swingset with nine seats installed at different heights.

The playground, which opened in December last year, was developed with an estimated budget of $413,000, according to Playpoint.

Mr Sim says most playground equipment use the same principles, with similar spinning, swinging or moving motions.

"It's how you incorporate these into design elements with a different wow factor to attract people.

"The ideal playground should be a mixture of architecture, aesthetics and play value - something that both the commissioning parties and designers can be proud of."

Sembawang Park

Nestled within the coastal Sembawang Park is a life-sized shipwreck of wooden planks and galvanised steel, separated into five fractured pieces.

The massive "wreck" is the centrepiece of the 900 sq m Sembawang Park playground, commissioned to be maritime-themed "because of the area's links to the naval history of Singapore", says Ms Kartini Omar, group director of the Parks Development Division at the National Parks Board (NParks).

The "wreck" was built in memory of two British battleships that sank north of Singapore after being attacked by the Japanese during World War II. Complete with gun turrets, propellers, smoke stacks and even a rudder, the ship was crafted with an emphasis on detail. It opened in July 2013.

Mr Jason Sim, 40, managing director of Playpoint, the Singapore playground specialist company that built the structure, says: "There is even a hole on the hull of the ship marking where the torpedo entered it."

Playpoint has also designed playgrounds at Gardens by the Bay, Jem mall and Singapore Sports Hub.

In line with the naval theme, the playground in Sembawang Park uses sand as a base instead of a "unitary surface", which is the rubber flooring seen at some other playgrounds.

Sand has long been a staple feature of playgrounds - and for good reason. According to child development experts, playing with sand brings many benefits to children, such as enhancing sensory experiences and creativity.

However, according to consultants, it is also sometimes considered more difficult to maintain as it may harden or get displaced.

Pasir Ris Park

Families are drawn to the Pasir Ris Park playground near Elias Road for its coastal view, sea breeze and welcoming 750 sq m of space.

Thanks to its expanse - afforded to only a handful of playgrounds in Singapore - the playground has a collection of well-spaced-out play equipment.

Ms Laura Connelly, 31, a part-time English teacher and mother of two daughters aged three and one, says: "The play area is huge and my girls can easily spend an hour exploring the variety of play structures there, as well as walk along the coast and spot chickens and often a family of otters in Sungei Api Api."

The highlights of the playground include a 10m-long slide stemming from a rope pyramid perched atop a hill, several rock-climbing walls and a rope bridge.

The playground has been built and upgraded by different companies over the years.

Despite being built to withstand heavy usage, the playground requires regular inspection and maintenance for safety.

Mr Patrick Lee, 52, director of playground specialist CT-Art Creation and a certified playground safety inspector, says the maintenance schedule depends on the playground owners and typically occurs once every few months.

But there is one problem frequent checks cannot prevent: vandalism.

Mr Patrick Yeo, 45, director of Mexplay, another playground specialist company, says: "The biggest challenge of the upkeep of equipment comes not from the children's heavy use of them, but rather, from vandals."

Unfortunately, playground specialists say there is little playground caretakers can do, except remove markings and spraypaint with thinner or paint over the vandalised sections.

See photos of the fascinating playgrounds in the gallery above.

The Straits Times

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