As a father with a six-year-old daughter, I often bring her to various local playgrounds for weekend fun time. One special playground deserves attention; not only did she have a great time, but it also influenced me deeply as a designer. The Helen and Peter Bing Children’s Garden at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and… Read more »
As a father with a six-year-old daughter, I often bring her to various local playgrounds for weekend fun time. One special playground deserves attention; not only did she have a great time, but it also influenced me deeply as a designer. The Helen and Peter Bing Children’s Garden at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, in Pasadena, California, is designed for children to play and learn about nature at the same time.
Even though I had visited The Huntington a few times during my school years, I didn’t have much knowledge about this space. For the first visit with my girl, two years ago, it was not easy to locate, hidden as it was behind the Brody Botanical Center. When we finally found the iconic entry’s green façade and little blue gate, we were delighted.
All of the facilities and components of the garden are designed at a child’s scale. I can still remember the joy and excitement on my daughter’s face when she was exploring the garden. The most memorable parts for her were the cozy outdoor teahouse and the pebble chimes sculpture. She wished to have a tea party with all her friends in that teahouse, and a longer time to play with the pebble chimes, however there was a long line of kids who also wanted to try it. The small teahouse is constructed of metal and covered with vines; the scale attracted many little girls to play inside. The pebble chime is a concrete and metal sculpture, and children can make unique sounds by putting pebbles and sand into the top of the sculpture. I pretty much felt like a giant in the garden, since I had to bend down while walking through the majority. It may sound inconvenient for an adult, but I also enjoyed the garden tremendously, especially since it forced me to lower myself not only physically, but also mentally. I could experience the spaces from the same level as my girl, and once again enjoy the place as a child.
The 19,600-square-foot garden was designed by the director of the botanical gardens, Jim Folsom, kinetic artist Ned Kahn, and landscape architect Todd Bennitt, with the goal of inviting children to learn about the wonder of nature through different design components based on themes of earth, water, fire, and air. Each theme has unique nature-orientated sculptures or ornaments to let children not only to play and explore without the standard playground equipment, but also to have a closer connection with nature.
Last December I was preparing a design package for the Lianjiang Park in Hunan, China, where there will be a 29,000-square-foot playground in the park. While I was working on the project I thought about the Children’s Garden in Pasadena, and hoped that I could introduce more nature-oriented components rather than typical prefabricated play equipment. But the main challenge to creating a unique garden similar to the one I’ve described requires a great amount of time to research, plan, design, and, finally, construct. Even though I didn’t have the opportunity to revise the playground program for my project, the philosophy of the Children’s Garden will always be a part of my design approach, which can be a tool to change people’s views, and also a gateway to bringing them closer to nature.
Joseph Hsu is a designer in the Laguna Beach studio.