Developing playful approaches that protect but don’t diminish
Reopening visitor attractions, arts and cultural venues and public spaces can fill people with trepidation. There are myriad guidance and regulations to interpret, that requires continued application of risk-benefit assessment. This significant workload and its challenges and responsibilities can result in some very clinical and austere approaches that may be contradictory to the actual intentions of a public place.
Much of our work involves supporting people to think about how they might intentionally re-enchant spaces, sensitively and subtly, often in cost-effective ways that make those spaces more playable for children. Unsurprisingly, children are often accompanied by their older human carers, and almost always live in communities with other humans, and so, our work also sees us thinking about how adults and children can occupy shared spaces that present value to them both but work for their intended purpose. Our work in Chester Zoo was exactly that, thinking how a place might be re-enchanted, adding to the quality of the visitor experience without detracting from the core purpose of the zoo.
Following the success of the Play-Work exhibition we co-curated last year, we’re pleased to be back working with Jo Marsh and her team at Ty Pawb – Wrexham Council’s markets, community and arts hub. There are two distinct elements to this work. One is working with designer maker Tim Denton in the creation of a ‘useful art space’, one function of which will be to transform into a place for play – we will look at this work in a separate blog. However, the first part of the work is to help Ty Pawb open up again in a way that is safe for visitors but retains their gentle, familiar, welcoming, playful and fun-loving ambience.
Ty Pawb translates into English as ‘everybody’s house’. Working with Ty Pawb’s operations team, we have developed a concept and campaign theme for their social distancing measures called Stryd Pawb – Everybody’s Street.
One significant starting point for us was that we wanted to create a landscape rich in signs symbols and signifiers that would act as spatial indicators naturally encouraging people to move around the space in the desired way. An environment in which the fun prompts are obvious and the regulating prompts more subtle but effective. We did not want to see hazard tape stuck to the floor, and instructional signs barking at visitors from every direction, our experience says people quickly become flooded by these resulting in them subconsciously blocking them out.
Another significant issue for us was that one of the side effects of the current crisis has been a dramatic (though sadly temporary) reduction in traffic on our roads. Together with an ongoing national movement to reclaim residential streets for play, led by the likes of Playing Out, this has opened up possibilities to reimagine the function of residential streets beyond the movement and parking of motor vehicles. Professor Alison Stenning and Dr Wendy Russell have produced an excellent paper on the subject, which is well worth a read (full paper here).
And so, Stryd Pawb takes design cues from the age-old children’s road map carpet and the street play theme. It uses road markings, and road signs to regulate movement incorporates lollipop street signs to keep people engaged and informed and uses street furniture and minimal infrastructure changes and street games to generate effect and affect. These are all control measure that maintain social distancing and hygiene requirements, but also and equally importantly, engenders a sense of playfulness in those visiting.
Ty Pawb already has a reputation for promoting children’s rights to play and participate in the everyday lives of their communities. This approach builds on that commitment by taking the opportunity to engage visitors in re-thinking how the public realm works and who it works for. Like all good playful interventions, this is about asking what if?
This work is still underway with much still to do in a achieving the full concept but feedback on the early developments is very positive. We will update this blog as things develop.