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In this day, there are now so many open space and playgrounds in Seoul, but back in 1970s, there were no place for children to run around and play freely. One day, just like a heaven-sent gift, a Children’s Grand Theme Park opened on the east outskirt of Seoul. The area is about 536,000㎡, which had been a golf course before. That place full of rare and precious rides was a paradise for children. I’ve been to Disney land long afterwards, but it wasn’t comparable to the great impact or emotion I felt when I first visited Children’s Grand Theme Park.
Over the years, new theme parks opened, with larger space and more rides than Children’s Grand Park. Like a vivid color fades under sunlight, time discolored the park.
Due to the expansion of the city, the park became part of denser Seoul. We heard that the number of visitors have remarkably dwindled, so it became a place for the local residents’ stroll ground. The reason why we visited the park in double-bind was that the administrators of the park and UNICEF, the representative organization for children, asked us for help to bring back children, bringing life to the park.
They asked if we can ginger up this space in a short period with a light structure or installation, in tiny budget.
I wanted to ask back, “There is nothing like it. Times have changed. There are no children to play here. Children in Korea, not only in Seoul, have no time to play around due to excessive competition for exams.”
But on the other hand, although architecture cannot change the world immediately, it could work like seasoning to deepen the taste, to infuse life into the park and form a ground for a change.
Thinking of ways to enlighten this space, we decided to ‘instill a story inside’. Like coloring a gray space, putting a story into a flat large park will make people to grow on the story and revive the park.
‘Touch the Story’. We came up with the title. For easy approach, we put a familiar story than a new story. We suggested giving a real, touchable object to a story we read and imagined when we were young.
<Le Petit Prince> was the story that came to our mind immediately. We decided to make the boa constrictor of Saint-Exupery in 3D and loose it in the plaza around the entrance. The plan was to build a wall and stairs, then put a slide between, and make the back and tail of the boa constrictor a bench. After several administrative procedures, we only had 2 weeks for construction.
The location of the boa constrictor was just in front of the entrance, but it was in a just gap between the street corner and the administrative office building with a toilet. The place used to be a space for a color-faded Snow White statue and rough flower garden. The Snow White retired after long-time work, and the boa constrictor replaced her.
First of all, we built steel frame structure and covered it with compressed wood panel skin. If we had enough time, we would have used concrete or brick to make a structure so it could look like as if it spouted out from the ground. But to fabricate it in the allotted time, we had to use a lighter structure. We colored the face in front in yellow, and the back side in white. Since the slide had some particular regulations, we changed it to stairs which is loved by children to go up and down.
To be precise, this installation has no specific usage. It could be a bench, or a wall with stairs. Because of its location, people can make appointments and wait, or they can recognize the boa constrictor and take pictures in front of it.
After we uncovered the cover after installation, children approached showing curiosity. They laid down on the bench, rolled balls on the back of the boa constrictor, sat on the stairs in a row, or played tag going up and down. Unpredicted various activities happened in a fleeting moment. Children were such creative users and also imaginative consumers.
They are like the little prince who noticed immediately that the drawing was not of a hat, but was a boa constrictor who swallowed the elephant. We wrote down a phrase of <Le Petit Prince> on the wall.
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” - Saint-Exupery
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