Spaces and qualities ofinspiration

With the key factors of safety, engineering, production, and accessibility in place, the emphasis for the development of Minkar could again be placed on design and play value and in order to go into more depth here, I will first touch on two areas of inspiration that are important to me.

Since my time as a student of architecture, I have been fascinated by the qualities of two types of conceptual space, the labyrinth and the cafe. The labyrinth has specific qualities that are elementary to its form. A labyrinth is not a maze. A maze has shortcuts, dead-ends, and possibly more than one
solution to its puzzle. In contrast, a labyrinth consists of a single path, spiralling inward to its centre point. There is only one way in, which is the same way out.

The labyrinth is a constructed journey, which because of its physical qualities promotes contemplative thought, and supports personal development. Throughout history and in many cultures around the world, the labyrinth has symbolized the notion of rebirth. The idea being, that by travelling in and back out, one has grown, changed, been renewed and transformed. I use the word transform purposefully as it implies a change in form and this is appropriate when discussing design. The type of change is not brought about by manipulation, distortion, or mutation. Transformation is closer to the kind of change that a caterpillar goes through in order to become a butterfly; its essence emerges as part of a natural organic process. The labyrinth is designed specifically to bring about a transformation of spiritual dimension. When designing playground equipment, the labyrinth reminds me of how a space can help a child along their own path of personal development.

The second point of reference for me is the cafe. The cafe space that I have in mind is Linnea’s Cafe, my favourite from my college days, though there are many cafes with similar qualities and most of us are familiar with such interiors. A cafe is remarkably different from the concept of the
labyrinth. Cafes are social spaces, containers, which are used for much more than sharing a cup of coffee. Though there is nothing exceptional about Linnea’s furnishings – shelves with games and books, a mess of tables and chairs, and an alcove by the window – it is a space where you can watch the world unfold. In itself, the alcove provides a space for quiet contemplation, for meeting friends, for live music or for a serious game of chess. The same space has many uses and it is transformed time and again when tables and chairs are moved around and people sit alone or together in groups. It is a fluid space that transforms in tune with the users and as a result they feel a sense of ownership of the space.

Where the labyrinth is a fixed form, the cafe is fluid. Comparing the two, it is clear that the relationship between time and space is fundamentally different. The labyrinth is predictable, stable, ordered, introverted, and has a sense of universality about it. The cafe is social, unpredictable, constantly changing, chaotic, extroverted, and has a ‘make it your own’ quality about it. When setting out to design playground equipment I am inspired to balance these contrasting qualities – changeable yet stable, personal yet social. To reiterate, these qualities can, on the one hand, transform the user, and on the other, they can be transformed by the user. This encapsulates the balance that was sought in the design of the Galaxy series.

Furthermore, in any design it is important to incorporate two additional characteristics – what we call affordance and holding power. Affordance is the quality a product can have that makes it immediately draw the interest of children. Holding power is the quality that encourages the child to maintain interest after the initial novelty has dissipated. For example, the Galaxy’s abstract, sculptural quality gives it a sense of wonder and sparks enquiry within the child. However, it takes more than an interesting visual appearance to maintain holding power. To invest the equipment with holding power, a number of different principles that cause the product to transform the user, and allow it to be transformed by the user, were considered.