Those planning a playdate with a difference need look no further than the recently opened Hyundai Museum of Kids’ Books & Art (MOKA) in Namyangju, east of Seoul. Jaime Hayon, the design world’s wizard of wit, whimsy and wonder, was given free rein to conjure up a children’s playground, sculpture garden and library for the museum, with a brief to encourage ‘nature literacy’ among city dwellers. The result sees Hayon’s signature fanciful characterisation – more usually lent to figurines, vases and installations – let loose for play time, and is set to enchant grown-ups and children alike.

Titled MOKA Play, the playground is populated by four colourful and captivating sculptural characters – a super-sized sausage dog, a trumpeting elephant, a giant llama and a reposing Pinocchio-style figure with a seesaw balanced across its ankle. Their rounded edges, slide tongues, and tunnel bellies invite clambering, creeping and crawling. Beneath a glass roof, amphitheatre-style seating encloses the space and geometric shapes spill across the flooring and surrounds.

View of MOKA Playground by Jaime Hayon featuring Pinnochio figure
MOKA Play features four sculptural characters, including this reposing Pinnochio-style figure with a bridge over its belly and a seesaw balanced across its ankle. Photography: Moka Garden/Woori

Wrapped around the upper walls is a mural of Hayon’s vivid sketches. ‘It is really a crazy project all on its own,’ says Hayon of the mural. ‘I was in the middle of the lockdown in Spain, and I had a lot of time, and I started to draw on my terrace, very freely. These drawings were talking about evolution. The mural is also a chance for Hayon to share a glimpse of his design process; the evolution from two-dimensional sketch to three-dimensional creation is something he wonders if children may pick up on.

‘Kids are open machines of imagination,’ he says. ‘So I just gave them tools to have fun, to see things, to see things through the drawings, to imagine that maybe that one of the drawings fell and became three dimensional and that they can play with it.’

From here, families can stroll through to the calmer, more reflective space of the similarly glass-roofed but more neutral-toned Jaime Hayon Garden for some chill-out time. Creature-shaped granite sculptures with brass details, and a head-shaped fountain stand amid soothing planting. One of the creatures, half bird, half hut, conceals a café, another an educational space. ‘Through the strength of the characters that populate the space, the garden proposes a path towards thought and emotion,’ says Hayon. ‘Gardens were built in the past to be areas where people could concentrate and come back to nature even for a few minutes in the day. If I think about what I like about classical gardens, I think we’re bringing that in a modern way into this one,’ says Hayon.

Above: the Jaime Hayon Garden, featuring a head-shaped fountain amid creature-shaped granite sculptures with brass details and soothing planting. Below: a granite sculpture of an elephant balancing on a pedestal, holding a peanut on its trunk. Photography: MOKA Garden/Woori

Rounding off the designer’s trio of spaces is MOKA Library, where some 2,000 nature-themed children’s books are housed enticingly at little-people height within snaking shelves. ‘Sometimes libraries can be the opposite of spaces that kids want to be. I wanted to create a space kids would want to come running to,’ says Hayon. A ceiling with built-in artwork is supported by giant figures, arms aloft, encircled by banquette seating that they wear like skirts. ‘There were structural columns in the space,’ explains the designer, ‘so we made these character-looking elements that hold the ceiling. The ceiling has a very artistic approach: a drawing becomes three-dimensional giving a rich texture to the space, and is also an interesting way to conceal technical elements.’ Alongside the library is another educational hub, and an ‘art lab’ that will host nature-themed exhibitions.

MOKA Garden, as Hayon’s three spaces are collectively known, is part of MOKA’s second location in South Korea. ‘They did not want conventional,’ affirm the Hayon Studio team of the client’s intent. We think they found their man – and the perfect play date.

View of MOKA Library by Jaime Hayon, with a pillar transformed into a giant figure holding up the ceiling
Hayon’s MOKA Library, with snaking bookshelves at little-people height and supporting columns transformed into giant figures wearing banquette seating. Photography: MOKA Garden/Woori
Jaime Hayon at home in Valencia with a miniature figurine that inspired his MOKA Playground design

Hayon at home in Valencia, Spain holding ’The Proud Llama’, a design that has been enlarged and cast in concrete for the Jaime Hayon Garden at the Hyundai Museum of Kids’ Books & Art. Photography: Jean Pierre Vaillancourt

Sketch of MOKA Garden by Jaime Hayon

Shared exclusively with Wallpaper*, a sketch by Hayon showing the mural that wraps around the upper walls of MOKA Play, alongside the sausage dog and elephant-shaped sculptural characters. Courtesy of Hayon Studio

Sketch of Jaime Hayon Garden

Hayon’s vision of visitors perched around the head-shaped fountain at the Jaime Hayon Garden. Courtesy of Hayon Studio

Hayon’s sketch of visitors meandering about the Jaime Hayon Sculpture Garden, encircling supersized fantastical creatures in cast concrete. Courtesy of Hayon Studio

Jaime Hayon’s fantastical creatures, as seen in his sketchbook

Further fantastical creatures, as seen in Hayon’s sketchbook, give a glimpse into the artist-designer’s creative process. Courtesy of Hayon Studio