Pop-up Play: Designing the design process

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I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to be one of the organisers of a workshop initiated by Megawra in conjunction with the Athar lina project to design a mobile playground for the children of al-khalifah street in Cairo.

In this phase of the Athar lina project in Al-khalifah street, they are working on renovating a deserted building that was once used as a clinic and getting people to use the space again. As I have understood the project would undergo a long process till actual results could be seen by the residents. And the problem with projects of that sort -with long durations and many entities involved- is that it’s harder to gain the residents’ trust and therefore might become less cooperative. Megawra had an excellent approach to this issue. They noticed that during the Athar lina project children from the Al-khalifah street always asked if they’ll ever allocate a place for them to play at, and they always complained that they had no place to play. This workshop was the solution; design pop-up play elements to be placed temporarily inside the ‘clinic’ building until actions start to be taken for the renovation project. This way the residents of Al-khalifah see the possibility of using this space again, and be able to maintain the level of trust between the project and the residents. Moreover, making it in a form of a workshop is a great way to get students and professionals more involved in on-ground projects. And we have great participants who are always willing to share their time, knowledge and effort to make the communities in Egypt better, this is really one of the best things in Egypt. In my opinion, planning this workshop is a very smart move, everybody benefits from it; the kids, the participants, the residents, the organisers and everyone working in the Athar lina project.

The workshop is taking place over two weekends, last weekend was the first phase where we -5 organisers and 10 participants- met at the ‘clinic’ building, After Renet Korthals, the lead organiser and a designer specialised in designing for children- briefed everybody about the aim and outcome of the workshop, she shared how can we communicate with the kids to know what type of play elements they want, and what do they love doing when they play.

We gathered the kids from the street and invited them to a play session with us where we showed them pictures of kids playing games, swings, playgrounds, and so on and started up a conversation with them and involve them in the design process itself. Afterwards we let the kids construct their dream play elements from toilet rolls, foam boards, sticks, cartons, etc.

We’ve had very good results I must say, the play session took place on friday and the children had ashared that they actually disliked this building because they remember it being a clinic and they used to get injections there, so they had bad memories linked to the building and they didn’t like being there. The younger children also said that their parents didn’t allow them to enter the building and that they didn’t like going near it. The next day, saturday, we had to drag the children outside the building because they wanted to come in and play and we had to work on the design concepts. It was great to see that the kids’ emotional link to the building was beginning to change.

The participants will be finalising their design throughout this week, and the next weekend ( 31st jan, 1st feb) will be the final phase of the workshop where we will be building the play elements. We are reusing materials to build the play elements like using wood from old furniture, tires, pvc pipes, plastic bottles, etc. It would be super awesome if you can help us gather as much materials as possible to be able to make this happen. If you have any material that you don’t need and you think we can use, it would make the children of Al-khalifah very happy.

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