Singapore’s highest honour for designers and designs across all disciplines
One of Asia’s premier design festivals that champions design thought leadership
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How We Play

11 min read

3 creative leaders, including our Executive Director Mark Wee, reflect about their play memories growing up and the types of play spaces they wish for in the city.

This illustration by Mark Wee was inspired by Clara Chow’s book, “Dream Storeys”, published in 2016, presenting a series of fictional stories about Singapore. Places were reimagined as extraordinary spaces. For example, multi-storey carparks became landscaped gardens, buildings were built around majestic trees and Bukit Timah hill became a colourful, cheerful mosaic of a climb

Mark Wee
Executive Director, DesignSingapore Council

The idea of play is a richly layered one. It refers to spaces where there is a sense of ownership and contribution to urban life. As an artist and architect, I loved my office in Arab Street. There were always a variety of food options, cool spaces and businesses in the neighbourhood. In my new role at DesignSingapore, play is something I have been contemplating in our aspiration to shape a loveable city by design. Just as we are shaped by our environments, we can also shape the places in which we live, work and play. The concept of play for me is to have places where I can go to, be filled with wonder, feel the generosity of the creative human spirit and contribute through different actions. 

Playing as a child

Growing up in Serangoon Gardens, I spent my days hanging out, skateboarding or playing basketball with my friends. But the most memorable times were our secret group adventures. We would explore on our bicycles, catch fish in canals, sneak out in the middle of the night, and got back home before our parents woke up. I believe these times are responsible for shaping me and my creative leanings.

Playing as a grown-up

What I enjoy doing now is going to East Coast Park and cycling around the Joo Chiat area. The openness of the park gives me a space to stare out into the sea, allowing me to think and reflect. The eclectic nature of Joo Chiat and the scale of the shophouses also yield unexpected discoveries now and then. 

Playing in the city

I met a travelling street artist from London at East Coast Park some weeks ago. I asked him for his first impression of Singapore. He said that although it was a beautiful city, everything seemed in place, like they couldn’t be touched or contributed to. No doubt, there is good design all around us, but more of our environment can be framed in an open-ended manner, where the public feels inspired to touch and play, to design their own experiences using various mediums.

Playing in the future

We all can curate the type of creative energy that we wish for a place. I would like to see places that can be easily adapted or reconfigured for different community needs. These places need not be completely designed, and only made complete by the public’s contributions.

An artist, architect, experience designer and educator, Mark Wee is currently the executive director of the DesignSingapore Council. He was also recently named one of Singapore’s “20 under 45”  architects by URA. In his professional life, Mark believes in shaping places that deepen identity and community, as well as the potential of design and innovation for business and cultural transformation.  

Illustration by Jackson Tan

Jackson Tan
Creative Director, BLACK

In the city, play is commonly or universally seen as entertainment. Mobile gaming on the train, playing pool at the bar or a game of frisbees at the park – they are all activities that entertain and engage the individuals in our everyday lives.

Playing as a child

When I was a kid, my maternal grandparents lived in a Housing Development Board flat in Dakota. I have fond memories of playing with my cousins in this family home. Our extended family members have a tradition of meeting over the weekends for home-cooked dinners in this very house. After eating, all the children get to go out and play. In a familiar scene, the adults sit around and chat while the kids have a field day on swings, the see-saws and other playground rides. Our play and activities were simple, but the joy came from being together with the cousins and knowing that we did not have to go to school the next day.

Playing as a grown-up

Play these days comprises post-work and post-dinner futsal with a bunch of friends on weekday nights. Long walks on weekends with my wife are also valued time. When we are up to it, we sometimes invite friends over for a homely night of board games.

Playing in the city

As a small city and island-state, play spaces can be built around our lives (home) and work (office), so that opportunities for play is always situated nearby. They should be made inspiring and accessible. If we repurpose some of the old or underutilised places around the city into play spaces – however big or small – they can easily become play destinations.

Playing in the future

Most people might cite the future as one that will be based indoors, shaped by virtual reality or digital-technology-enabled. However, I hope for future playscapes that are even more experiential, physical, outdoor-oriented and integrated with nature. These play spaces can be designed for kids as well as adults – where grown-ups are encouraged to play and our inner child-like wonders are ignited so that we can all return to the simple joys of playing.

Jackson Tan is an artist, designer and curator. He is the creative director of BLACK, a multidisciplinary creative agency and founding partner of PHUNK, a contemporary art & design collective. Jackson was awarded ‘Designer of the Year’ in 2007 by the President’s Design Award. 

Illustration by Clark Yee

Clara Yee
Creative Director, In The Wild

In the context of spatial relationships, play breaks stereotypes and calls upon our imaginations to envision futures ahead of us. It is an inherent quality we were born with. Taking on various instances and qualities over our growing years, play evolves with us and so do the spaces surrounding us. A child might feel powerful and free in a playground, confidently hanging off monkey bars; an adult may discover more fun with setting foot on foreign land and bringing ideas into reality. In some ways, we are living the playful dreams of ancestors, and it is now our turn to play, shape and transform.

Playing as a child

Immersed in my immediate environment of lalang fields, drains and the Bidadari cemetery, I take trips down my imagination, miming props, making up stories and playing them out. I interacted with my environment, swinging from Banyan trees and playing with huge fallen palm leaves.

Playing as a grown-up

Now, I am drawn to connections beyond my immediate environment; to explore possibilities beyond my circumstances. I enjoy travelling and connecting with people, and experiencing fascinating cultures from Tao Pueblos to the Berbers and the Nias Islanders. I also turn towards playing through my work.

Playing in the city

Play in a fast-paced modern city like Singapore would mean to explore within our means and to push the boundaries of the free market. It is free from constraints such as the cost of living, power imbalances and historical baggage – yet, it works with the culture, geography and materials available. Here, play is spontaneous, unpredictable and can take the shape of organised chaos. It is a vessel for serendipitous encounters and all kinds of opinions and weirdness to free people’s minds from the expected.

Playing in the future

In Georg Simmel’s “The Metropolis and The Mental Life”, cities of the near future will be in constant motion, with a high fluidity of information, commodities and population. The material of the city will transform dramatically into more complex, flexible organisations and soft (digital and ecological) infrastructures.

As cities move towards digital infrastructure, children will move from playing with sandpits to playing with roadside LED sculptures. With analogue mobile apps, they will code and hack themselves into cities to create their own narratives of play. My idea of play spaces in the future is anti-design. It grows out of the inherent resourcefulness of children and their non-conformity to rules.

Intrigued by the world of visuals, Clara began illustrating since young. She has since grown to experimenting and collaborating in diverse fields ranging from fashion prints to weaving spatial interventions and stage design using multiple disciplines as mediums for storytelling. She is a Forbes Asia inaugural 30 under 30 honouree and co-founder of nomadic creative house – in the wild.

*This article, written by Dawn Lim, was first published in Skyline issue 9, a URA corporate magazine that explores key urban issues and spaces around us, uncovering fresh insights and future trends shaping Singapore.


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Singapore’s highest honour for designers and designs across all disciplines
One of Asia’s premier design festivals that champions design thought leadership
National Design Centre