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Anything can be a plaything to a child. Anthill Creations, a startup by five IIT architects finds discarded, low-cost materials from scrap markets and imaginatively upcycles them to create playgrounds. Tyres are turned into swings, cable drums become climbers, plastic bottles are used to make life-sized abacuses, and play comes to life. In this series on Play, we explore the idea of making playgrounds and playscapes in India and Asia.
Building a playground can be a child’s play, at least, when it’s done by Anthill Creations, based in Bangalore, that has built over 40 play spaces so far. The team makes it a point to begin all its projects with expert opinions from master advisors – the children themselves. In a game devised by Anthill, kids gather and describe what play is to them. It’s with this invaluable data that the group plans its playgrounds.
About 80 % of the work happens before the actual ‘building’ process, explains Anthill’s CEO, Pooja Rai. The core team decides the layout based on responses from children, the age group that is going to be using the playground, the size of the play space, as well as the access to local recyclable materials.
The building process is rapid and takes about 4 to 5 days. It’s all done by a pool of volunteers including teachers and community members. Rai fondly recounts a project in Sangvi, a village in Maharashtra, where the Anthill team stayed for a week to build a playground. “The entire village worked with us, we used oil drums and cable drums, and it was amazing!”, she says.
The play elements that are built are simple, completely DIY and modular. This means no prior ‘building experience’ is required. Volunteers are briefed and trained an hour before they get down to work. Children aren’t part of the whirlwind building phase, but they help paint sometimes, adding colour to the playscapes.
Over its course of 3 years, Anthill has created its own ‘design library’ – an important resource that has documented over 100 play elements built so far. These include elephant, octopus, caterpillar, climber, rocket, pyramid, abacus, platforms, bridges and a whole range of animal and abstract shapes. These elements are built mostly with tyres, oil and cable drums. The library helps the team make quick decisions to replicate elements in similar space restrictions or conditions. The idea is also to make the end to end process of creating playscapes automated and easily scalable.
The play elements are carefully picked keeping in mind both the physical and social development of children. Some play elements like seesaws ensure that children socialise with one another, some like climbers encourage solo activity pushing children to be more physical, some elements like bridges prod them to take small risks, while other corners of the playscape are apt for rest.
When designing for children, there are certain criteria that have to be kept in mind, says Rai. For one, children love to play, this means the elements will have to endure rough usage. The materials also have to be sturdy enough to counter vandalism. Therefore, the recyclables picked have to survive for years. Safety, of course, is key when building for children. The team’s designs don’t have any sharp edges, nuts and bolts are driven in carefully, in places where children can’t reach them. The height of the play elements has to be suitable for the age group it is built for. The team also maintains a certain space gap between play elements.
The start-up also helps raise funds for several of its projects - 80% of the costs are raised by Anthill, while the schools pitch in 20%. The cost of its playscapes is far lesser than conventional playgrounds that usually build with steel, wood and plastic. This isn’t just sustainable but also makes play accessible to children from lower economic strata.
The ultimate goal really is to make sure every child goes out and plays. “Play is a necessity, not a luxury,” Rai reminds us all.
Check out some of Anthill Creations’ projects on their Facebook page.
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