Ibtasem Playground for Syrian Refugee Children, CatalyticAction, 2015

“Within humanitarian responses, programmatically, children often become invisible” (Marc Sommers).  Sadly, this is true of many of society’s responses, not just  humanitarian ones.  But CatalyticAction, a non-profit design studio that works internationally, is “intervening with projects that catalyse change in society”.  I’m pleased that they recognize play–particularly children’s play–as one of the things that catalyses change!

Their “Ibtasem” playground in Bar Elias, Lebanon–a city that hosts about 150,000 Syrian refugees–was constructed after an extensive design consultation with the camp’s children.  Out of these sessions grew a plan for a modular playscape–easy to raise, easy to strike–whose spaces allow for both active and quiet play.  Locally sourced materials used for the construction can be recycled when the refugee camp is no longer necessary, and the children participated in some elements of the build.

I particularly like the way CatalyticAction’s design mingles sport and play; too often the sporting field and the playground seem to be spatial enemies, and this is unnecessary (see also the integration of basketball in this Bankok playscape by Tyin Tegnestue).    The modular spaces of the climbing frame provide easy spectator space for a game of basketball on the attached court; a perfect way to gather multiple generations in mutual enjoyment of the play space.

And there’s a roof made of vegetable crates that will soon grow over with jasmine. Because playgrounds-should-not-be-deserts, even when they are in one.

I love to see great design in difficult conditions!  CatalyticAction, who raised funds for the playground via indiegogo and partnered with Arup for the engineering,  plans to expand and perfect their ideas at other sites in Lebanon.

“Through rigorous design practices, community engagement and understanding the specificities of different contexts, we are working to better the lives of marginalised and disadvantaged groups in different global settings. We work with communities to deliver projects that they can go on to sustain themselves; integrating our design and architectural skills with our experience in participatory engagement to bring about positive transformations. We endeavour to challenge the status-quo, where marginalised groups can become dependent on long term aid, and instead work to produce self-sufficient and strong communities.

We do not use a ‘one-solution-fits-all’ approach; in order to bring about lasting change we believe that interventions should be designed for specific spaces, groups and times. “  -CatalyticAction

One Response to “Ibtasem Playground for Syrian Refugee Children, CatalyticAction, 2015”

  1. Bernie DeKoven said:

    Thanks so much for this. Inspiring. Brilliant. Sensitive. Aware. Engaging. Involving the whole community. Promising. Restoring hope.

    January 11, 2016 at 12:16 pm

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