Advocating adventure in education, design collective Soup International dreams up a playscape that fosters interaction and exploration – at a distance.

In the lead-up to each issue, we challenge emerging designers to respond to the Frame Lab theme with a forward-looking concept. While most governments are keen for educational facilities to reopen – both to aid parents’ return to work and to avoid a generation of learners falling behind – others are more cautious. But whether we will enter the age of at-home learning or revive the physical classroom, schooling will need to adapt to ‘the new normal’, meeting both social and safety needs. How? We asked three creative practices to share their ideas.

The designers behind the collective Soup International met while pursuing their Master’s in Interior Design at the University of East London. Thanks to their diverse cultural backgrounds and skills they are able to approach all their projects – which range from social design ventures to hands-on workshops – from multiple perspectives. Soup International team members Tatiana Garcia Bacca, Beth Hooper, Himani Harikrishna Ravuri, Ed Chelsea Rimando and Aysha Farhana contributed to The Challenge.

Your concept PlayDaze focuses on younger school-age children. Why do you think it’s important to rethink educational spaces particularly for this demographic?

BETH HOOPER: When reminiscing about our own childhood education, we recalled the excitement that came with the start of the year. After six weeks of summer holiday, which feel like forever when you’re seven, we packed our school backpacks with our favourite sandwich and headed back to school thrilled to see our much-missed friends again. This year that experience is very different and a lot less carefree for pupils. While children must be kept safe from the ongoing pandemic, we believe they must not miss out on their education, friendships and playtime. We believe it’s very important to keep school fun, and replace the prevailing anxiety with adventure. 

How do you intend to achieve that?

BH: By focusing on the playground as an extension of the classroom. PlayDaze proposes weaving together multiple play areas into a labyrinth of corridors, tunnels, bridges and open classrooms.

The five team members pictured (from top to bottom: Tatiana Garcia Bacca, Beth Hooper, Himani Harikrishna Ravuri, Ed Chelsea Rimando and Aysha Farhana) contributed to The Challenge.

Where did you get your inspiration from?

ED CHELSEA RIMANDO: We looked at New York City’s Cypress Hill Playgrounds from the 1960s, which were designed by Charles Forberg. Here, seven-foot-tall vertical concrete slabs were placed in a circle, which encouraged running and hiding while providing shade and shelter at the same time. Another inspiration came from the work of Dutch architect Aldo van Eyck, who conceived a playground on the Zeedijk in Amsterdam in collaboration with his brother-in-law and visual artist Joost van Roojen. Screened off by a low wall, the geometrically organized grounds featured a circular sandpit, climbing frames and posts to play leapfrog. We asked ourselves how their playful approaches to architecture, layout and routing could be adapted to fit today’s distancing measures. We thought of how the simple architectural shapes used could be reinterpreted into easy-to-clean surfaces and how the space between walls could be utilized for play and discovery. 

TATIANA GARCIA: Besides that we also researched how the likes of Sanaa, RO/LU and IOU engage people in their work by using sensory manipulations, tricks and games. 

How did you translate these stimuli into your own concept?

HIMANI HARIKRISHNA RAVURI: The playgrounds become the entrance to the classrooms in our design. Doors are replaced by windows, which means entering becomes an exploratory experience. Steps and slides give access to the indoors. In addition, the playful, labyrinth-like feel of the outdoor playgrounds also extends inside.  

What about safety, especially when thinking about the added concerns around corona?

TG: Many parents are rightly concerned about the impact socializing with classmates might have on their children’s health, as well as the risk of them bringing the virus back home. That’s why we propose children become part of their own ‘bubble’ with no more than 15 classmates. But they will interact with other ‘bubbles’ through contactless play, thus developing skills for collaboration, team work and non-verbal communication. Inside, the use of central circulation space is kept to a bare minimum.