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  • July 29, 2015

The Delightfulness of Playgrounds, as Seen From Above

When photographer Stefen Chow was growing up in Singapore, he couldn’t sit still at school.

“I was a very energetic child, and sitting in the classroom and listening to the teacher was not enough for me—I had a lot of energy to expend. I wanted to scream and jump and do everything on the playground,” he says.

Now that he is grown, with a wife and daughter, Chow wanted to pay homage to the spaces that influenced him so much as a child. And he wanted to bring the same sense of surprise and delight to his photographs that playgrounds can bring to a kid.

112 Whampoa Road
112 Whampoa Road
11 Holland Drive
11 Holland Drive

“As an adventurer, playgrounds played a huge part in my development,” he says. “As you grow up you realize that playgrounds becomes more invisible, and the things in front of you are what you can buy or enjoy. Playgrounds are a place where fun is simple and straightforward, and I wanted to showcase them in a way that makes people say, ‘Huh, I never thought about it in that way before.’”

In order to achieve that sense of wonder, Chow and his wife, Lin Hui-Yi, conceived the idea of The Play Project, which showcases a hundred of Singapore’s playgrounds from the air and locates them on a subway map of the city.

Adventure Playground in Tiong Bahru Park
Adventure Playground in Tiong Bahru Park
60 Marine Terrace
60 Marine Terrace

To make the images, Chow hired an aerial photography company called Avetics to fly drones over playgrounds in Singapore. He scouted locations from an online street directory, then visited more than 200 playgrounds and made more than 300 flights to get the hundred images that ended up on The Play Project’s website.

Avetics specializes in industrial and advertising photography, and for this project they customized a drone to carry Chow’s Nikon Coolpix A compact camera. An Avetics employee would pilot the drone, and Chow would either take the photos while looking at an LCD-type screen, or act as art director while another Avetics employee took the photos.

And even though the images appear to be empty still lifes, Chow says he was looking for moments, even in these seemingly static images. An astute viewer can spot those subtleties—as a car makes a turn around a curve or trains pass each other on opposite tracks.

Stagmont Park (785 Choa Chu Kang Drive)
Stagmont Park (785 Choa Chu Kang Drive)
Tembusu Park
Tembusu Park

According to Chow, there are more than a thousand playgrounds in Singapore, so this project wasn’t meant to be a complete survey. Instead, the project honors urban design, landscape architecture, and the pure aesthetics of the simple play space.

“My personal work has always been to get people to assume they know about something, and then realize they were wrong, or understand something deeper,” says Chow.

“What we discovered is that people in Singapore assumed that playgrounds have disappeared. But in fact they are still very alive and well—the children all know where they are, but as adults, you can’t see them.”


Stefen Chow is a landscape and portrait photographer based in Beijing. To see more of his work, visit his website, and follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

This project was funded in part by SG50—a nationwide effort to celebrate Singapore’s 50th anniversary in 2015.

There are 19 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Alfred
    December 2, 2015

    Compiling all great photo can really amaze alot of viewers. Will make my own project too.. Thank you for sharing.

    http://www.thegreenbook.com/

  2. Jim Love
    August 17, 2015

    Not a place I would take my children. Is anything ‘real’ ? Photography is splendid – Kudos to the person/s who filmed the pictures. Pictures-Great, location-Nyet! Might be fine for one family with two children, considering all the surrounding apartments, I doubt if any would actually ever be used. But then… Asians are used to crowds. Lived in Japan for almost 3 years… loved every day.

  3. Alan James
    August 17, 2015

    They all look too cluttered, and enclosed for me. Rather claustrophobic – and child-like. I wouldn’t care to be at any of those that were presented. Prefer ‘Adults Only’ resorts … I’m a near senior.

  4. Alphy
    August 17, 2015

    Lucky children who I suppose get to play here, even though they are not seen here. Great perspective — marvelous photos.

  5. Muhsin
    August 16, 2015

    Wonderful photos, beautifully designed playgrounds but where are the children?

  6. Edward Lewis
    August 16, 2015

    Remarkable photos! Each playground so beautifully designed. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Gary
    August 16, 2015

    I am a big fan of aerial photography. These are great pictures!

  8. bwana
    August 16, 2015

    Neat! Really shows the geometry involved…

  9. Mechthild
    August 16, 2015

    As pretty as the photos are, the grounds are beautifully painted, but they are just asphalt and easy-to-maintain plastic. not a creative toy or messy sandbox in sight. SAD

  10. Joan Cressman
    August 16, 2015

    So happy with many colors. Thank you for your wonderful work.

  11. Keefe
    August 16, 2015

    Playgrounds didn’t disappear in the minds of people who are still using them. But for people who won’t, does it matter?

  12. S. Rajah Iyer
    August 16, 2015

    I don’t know whether to admire the Photography or the picture perfect streets of Singapore!

  13. Jane
    August 16, 2015

    I would have liked a child’s perspective rather than an aerial one.

  14. Heath Holden
    August 11, 2015

    Such an amazing idea and executed very well, as always! Heath.

  15. gkg
    July 30, 2015

    what a great project, in an era of urbanization, it is not easy to be played on such lovely playgrounds.

  16. Shruthi V
    July 30, 2015

    Lovely captures.. reminds childhood ♥ 🙂

  17. Grace
    July 30, 2015

    There is a wonderful TEDTalk about a kindergarten in Tokyo that “let’s kids be kids.” The kindergarten is like a big playground that the kids are free to explore without boundaries. I believe these kids were actually reported to have performed better in school because they were able to get their energy out, allowing them to better focus. Here is a link to it: https://www.ted.com/talks/takaharu_tezuka_the_best_kindergarten_you_ve_ever_seen?language=en

  18. Donna
    July 29, 2015

    I lived in Singapore two years and visited again recently but had no idea all these playgrounds were there. Such a great idea. Loved seeing the pictures.

  19. Kim
    July 29, 2015

    This is a great series…I love it and it gives me an idea for a project of my own

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