Are you considering quitting your career to travel and explore the outdoors? Oh but what if you could work and be in the outdoors, all at the same time? LBO brings to you a new series of super Outdoorsy Professions you can consider that will keep your outdoorsy heart and bank account equally happy.
We met Landscape Designers Anjali Menon and Aditi Agrawal, founders of Gudgudee a design studio that takes play seriously – they design playgrounds that are holistic and fun. Here are snippets from the interview.
Tell us about your childhood memories in the outdoors.
Anjali: When I was a child, my housing society didn’t have a proper playground, so we used to play games like chor-police, badminton and throw ball in the narrow lanes near my building.
My summer vacations were spent with my grandparents in Kerala. We had a huge banana and coconut plantation, and my sister and I spent our days running around, splashing water from the pump, plucking mangoes, jackfruits and bananas. We collected different kinds of pebbles, leaves and flowers.
We would make small toys using coconut tree leaves and other natural material that was readily available. Those memories are really special even today.
How did you take up playground designing as a career? Did you chance upon it?
Anjali: Even today, there is no formal course where you can learn playground design. I was interested in pursuing a career in furniture design, and was specialising in the same at NID Ahmedabad, when something interesting happened.
In the third year, we had a course called ‘Design for Special Needs’. As a part of the course research, I visited the Blind People’s Association in Ahmedabad with my batch-mate Aditi. It was then we realised that children with special needs have no access to outdoor play facilities.
Most public parks and gardens in India are unintentionally designed in a way to keep special children out. Not only that, conventional playgrounds also lack imagination and focus on just physical play.
We saw this as an opportunity to show people that, from a learning and development perspective, play areas are as important as classrooms. We then built our first pilot project at the Blind People’s Association Ahmedabad, and a year after we graduated, Gudgudee was born.
Aditi: The word playing has changed meaning over the years. Unless we are talking about organised sport like cricket or football, parents dont thinks of going outdoors to play anymore. Playing seems like a frivolous activity, whereas it is actually developmentally (both physically and mentally) really important for children. Even in adults it helps let go of stress and helps build strong relationships.
Is there a connection between the outdoors and learning for kids?
Anjali: Children are naturally drawn towards playing outdoors. Outdoor play allows children to explore their natural environment. It also gives them the space and freedom to make large movements like running, jumping, throwing; this helps them develop muscle strength and co-ordination.
Aditi: When millennials like us, who have grown up playing outdoors, have begun to think of play only in digital means, what will it mean for the future generations? Anjali and I hope to change that perspective with new age innovative playgrounds.
How are senses involved in the spaces you create? Give us examples?
Anjali: Our design ideology is based on helping children develop the five senses; their sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste.
For example take a look at the telephone pipes. It is one of our designs created to stimulate a child’s hearing. It is an installation made with metal pipes that are connected below the ground. When you speak from one end of the pipes, your voice can be heard from the other end. This is quite similar to the can-and-string telephones many of us have made as children.
We make a conscious effort to use different materials and textures in the playground. One of our designs – the interactive wall- is a combination of tactile stimulation and physical play. It is a maze like structure made in brick work. The scale is such that children can easily climb on it. We create graphic patterns on the wall surfaces using textured, paint, mosaic and other found objects.
Also, a playscape is incomplete without some natural elements. Therefore, we include landscaping as a major element to stimulate their sense of smell and taste by using plants like ajwain, tulsi, and the like.
This is interesting. Tell us more about sensory learning.
Anjali: It is really important to give children the opportunity to actively use and develop their senses and explore the world around them. Sensory play is crucial for brain development. It helps in language development, cognitive ability and memory function. Children learn to identify attributes like cold, dry, wet, smooth, rough, textured, etc.
With the right kind of sensory activities, children can learn to collaborate, use their imagination and develop their motor skills.
What are the challenges of such a tangential career path?
Anjali: When we started, the real challenge for us was that playspace design was an unexplored market. Back then, not everybody understood the importance of having playgrounds for kids. Even now, most clients are concerned about the ‘look and feel’ of the playground rather than knowing about its functional benefits. But now our work is speaking for itself.
Advice to young and old readers who would like to take up a career in playground designing.
Anjali: If you are passionate about designing for children and are looking for an opportunity to work with different materials and challenge your creativity, this is the profession for you. It is a very challenging career to take up right now, especially in India. Few people realise that play areas need to be well designed. But I am confident that in the years to come, this mind set will change.
This is our first in a series of interviews with professionals who have taken up outdoorsy professions and share with us the world through their looking glass. If you know of someone out there doing some brilliant work with the great outdoors do share with us on [email protected] or comment here. We’d love to share your outdoorsy story with the world.