Beijing-based firm, we architech anonymous (waa), has refurbished and transformed a former warehouse complex in the city into an undulating landscape of intertwined mounds, voids and pipes, meant to inspire wonder and amusement amongst children. The renovation project, titled The Playscape, reinfuses the atmosphere of suburban neighbourhoods into the setting of a dense urban domain, facilitating street play and physical activities among kids. In reviving an aspect of childhood that has been somewhat overlooked - with the advent of digital media and technological pacifiers, the design aims to provide tools and contexts for learning skills related to balance, movement, and proprioception - while nurturing the curiosity inherent to this stage of life.
Built in the 1970s to store and transport grains, in the north of Beijing, China, the existing on-site storage facilities in the complex were ordered around a central courtyard, with a public street separating the south building from the other structures. The Playscape's client is a healthcare provider who specialises in the observation and assistance of mobility-related development for children across an array of age groups.
Under these conditions, waa conceptualised a scheme that drew from the popular culture of the past and abstracted its identifiers to create an experience that prioritised outdoor play and limited screen time. "We believe the missing element of a child’s development in a modern Chinese city is chiefly a functioning neighbourhood. The design focus was to address this lacking aspect of inner city dwelling, distorting scales and manipulating movement sequences to build a tool for sensory learning," explain the architects.
Hence, the we architech anonymous adopted a concept they describe as 'Back to the Neighbourhood', utilising targeted architectural interventions, divided into three categories with a range of proportions to create unique environments. Pipes, the first element, are among the most identifiable and prominent in modern indoor play areas. Waa arranged these tubular spaces in a sequence of connecting bridges and staircases with five diameter scales that include 2.3m for walkways, 1.7m for staircases, 1.3m for safety balustrades, 0.8m for slides, and 0.4m for external lighting. Bridging levels and distant zones, they test bodily awareness and ergonomic recognition through their various nooks and crannies.
Next, roofs provide viewpoints for children to map out their routes, enabling them to explore and make their own decisions. Finally, textured mounds, complementing the brick facades of the warehouses, provide a range of inclines for kids to test their sense of equilibrium while crossing the fluid terrain at different speeds. They also envelop and shelter areas of covered play beneath them, accessed by slides or openings scooped out from the topography, secured by meshed railings. The architects state, "Balance is taken for granted until challenged. It is our hope that activity-based emotional responses to this built environment and the perceptions harnessed, can augment the client’s tools that strengthen coordination within the child’s development".
With the aid of these elements, The Playscape creates spaces that reflect and support traits, themes, and activities commonly seen in street play among young children. These include group interactions such as playing hide and seek, maze-like spaces for kids to explore and discover routes that would have otherwise remained hidden, an adventure playground for them to test levels of risk, and abstract environments where imaginations can run wild to create thought-based scenarios or narratives. "Where the iconography of the project becomes about the activity and embracing a degree of risk, we hope to nudge children to imagine and feel what they see as the limits to their own adventure," mentions waa.
Besides the outdoor areas, three indoor play zones have been developed inside the existing warehouse cluster, with private paths to an adjoining kindergarten and a nearby public park. A low-pitched, six-metre single-level volume forms the first of these zones, specifically designed for pre-schoolers between age two and four, with soft surface topographies and hung fabrics framing crawl spaces. An adjoining restaurant and library have been provided to supplement activities here.
The second playspace is subdivided into three levels, comprising a tiered area with an interactive subterranean space for kids aged four and above, a sharply pitched climbing topography, and a space with a suspended tensile net connected to numerous slides. Six multipurpose classrooms have also been included on the second and third levels for directed learning, with a long, vertical seven-metre slide linking them to level one.
Outside, an aerial bridge reconnects the southern building - with views of the public park - to the complex's roof terraces, which are looped for parents to keep an eye on their children while accessing amenities such as a terraced bar. The design features a limited colour palette composed predominantly of textured brown mounds and indoor concrete surfaces, with hints of white and yellow in the pipes and underground areas respectively.
"Children are often passive in decision making scenarios. Play is often the only period under their own control", state the architects. By giving the power to make individual choices back to children through the lens of street play, The Playscape resurrects the long-forgotten joys of exploration and adventure that are integral to a child's formative years.
Name: Children’s Community Centre - The Playscape
Location: Langyuan Station, Dongba, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China
Client: Beijing NuanQin
Architect:waa (we architech anonymous)
Site Area: 3921.26m²
Gross Floor Area: 2657.47m²
Construction Schedule: Dec 2019- May 2021
Interior: waa (we architech anonymous)
Principal Architects: Di Zhang, Jack Young
Team: Minghui Huo, Yuqing Feng, Min Wang, Jing Zhu, Mengbo Cao, Hualin Yang, Weiya Li, Qiwen Cao, Heff Jin
Structure Consultant: LAVA Structure
Main Contractor: YJYZ Construction
Structure Team: Jinbin Zhang, Lida Tang
Architectural Schedule: May 2018- Dec 2019
Interior schedule: Jun 2018- Feb 2020