Design: Drain Garden & Soil [studio]

Closer to the building and the main entrance onto the playground are gardens planted around a stormwater drain. These are separated from the sand area by a large boulder.

The playground already had a storm drain, and it was blatantly obvious that it drew children in. However, we also talked about the ease with which we let children entertain themselves dropping random objects down the drain. With no care for either the functionality of the drain or the urban culture that this piece of infrastructure represents. We let it happen in the name of “fun”. So we began to wonder: what might come to be if we gathered around the drain? Not the story circle on a brightly-coloured carpet featuring some smiling flower or green planet, but a rusty metal drain-cover centering our stories and conversations?

And children offered beautiful stories. Of echoes that became geckos. Of waters running to the ocean. The stories were so captivating, as was the pedagogical potential of thinking about how drains like this are designed to get rid of the stormwater as soon as it hits the ground of our cities, of fears we have over the strength of rainfall, of connections between drains beyond our playground, of environmental degradation, as the recent events in BC.

Hence, the design decision to highlight the drain, to frame its, to treat it not as a piece of invisible infrastructure, but as a pivotal point of a space, from which run that tails of what it means to live at the time of climate change.

There is an overwhelming linearity of the traditional design process. Part of that, I think, is insistence on a sense of completeness. A -> B -> C. And that’s the end. Work’s done.

We wondered whether we could experiment with that in a rather blunt way. So a portion of the playground was backfilled, as I mentioned, with the soil excavated during construction. We have made no plans to plant over, or pave over this space, instead hoping for it to remain unfinished, baren, torn. It might become, over time, a mud studio, for being and thinking with soil, but it does not have a mud kitchen and there are no plans to install one. And that is straightforwardly because we did not want for materials like soil to become simple affordances for inherited play scripts. It doesn’t mean play won’t happen here, or that children won’t walk out caked with heavy clay, but the WHY behind invitation to get there would be different than a decision to LET kids get dirty.