Best Playground: Wallpaper* Design Awards 2021
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.
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.
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.