Playground - Lesvos

Lesvos, Greece, 2018. This was still the situation before the huge fires in camp Moria, one of the most notorious refugee camps in Europe, known for violating many human rights and a central point of attention for NGOs. Back then Michaël was still on his own, volunteering at the community center One Happy family, a place, where many people sought peace, education, food, and other forms of help. After a successful crowdfunding campaign, Michaël decided to invest this into making a New Playground, together with local refugee volunteers.

The construction process

Read here Michaël’s personal experience of the construction process:

The construction process went very spontaneous and adaptive, dealing with the materials at hand while trying to ignore the hot weather and the fuss around us. We reused most of the scrap wood of the demolished previous playground, cutting it to where it could fit, then sanding it to avoid splinters in the small hands of the children. Faraz, the Afghan carpenter, was very thoughtful to discuss the height of the treehouse stairs, winding between the massive branches. And so, every detail became finely attuned to the human scale of a six years old child. At other times, we needed to improvise with the limited range of materials we could locally buy, as the island is quite small. The slide, for example, was made by gluing and shaping wooden boards and bending a sheet of stainless steel. The soft ropes of the bridge were originally meant for sailing boats, and the thematic buoys are painted tires we found along the road. We finished the wood with a natural look, leaving some room for the artists to paint small murals. 

And then, finally, it was the day of the opening. Although every day I imagined how the structures would be used, it did not prepare me for the scene that was about to unfold. First, the kids hesitated to come in, standing mesmerized by the fence, some of them had never seen a playground in their lives. But after it became clear it was specifically built for them, little encouragement was needed for them to burst out all over the place. The smallest seemed delighted to play house in the sand, intuitively understanding the use of the small kitchen; some others were more artistically oriented, drawing with the chalk on the blackboard fences. The wildest kids had their adventure by climbing into the treehouse, taking the slide, and then flying at the bigger wooden structure. I sometimes felt stressed, as the kids found all kinds of ways of hanging and climbing I had not foreseen. Some more reserved kids found their place in the shade along the marble track (marbles, the small glass balls), which could be customized with every use. The total scene felt like one cheerful chaos, a liveliness beyond comprehension. From total control over the design for months to nothing to say at all when it became used; a shocking, beautiful, and grateful experience. It was this experience that taught me the unique power of architectural design, a memory that I deeply cherish in myself, and nothing that can take that away.

Location | Lesvos, Greece
Date | March – May 2018, 9 weeks
Partner | NGO One Happy Family 
Material costs | €2500
Project | Playground; creation of timber structures, treehouse, terrace flooring, decoration, safety fences, marble track, sandpit, climbing pyramid, slide, wobble bridge etc.
Dimensions | 12 x 5 x 4.5 m, space for approximately 20 children