Isamu Noguchi, an American sculptor with a passion in cross-media art, proposed the “Playscapes” concept in the early 20th century. He believed earth itself to be a sculptural material, from which arbitrary playscapes that had no preset play styles could be created and used to unleash children’s imagination. This space is artwork in itself. This concept, where art and play coexist, where children’s creativity is embraced, where art is part of public realm, moved me deeply.
Since the 1920s and 1930s most playgrounds in Hong Kong have used ready-made playground equipment imported from Europe and the US (Merry-go-round, spring riders etc). Occasionally, there were custom-made equipment designed specifically for the playground. Starting in the 1980s, integrated playground equipment gained popularity and the custom-made type became increasingly rare. This is why the custom-made playground in the Choi Po Court Playground – built in the 1980s – comes as such a surprise.
The ground level of the Choi Po Court Carpark is home to a covered leisure space. The open-air areas on the north and south sides each feature a rockery-styled playground. The one on the south side is all straight lines, with elderly workout facilities located at the “mountain top” (it was said it used to house children’s play equipment). The one on the north side is more organically shaped, almost like a chestnut, with tunnels running through and balance beams at the entrance. Design-wise, the two rockeries are like yin-and-yang, but curiously both are decorated with coloured stone steps and slides, such that they appear quite obviously two-of-a-kind.
Kate, a landscaper who live in Choi Po Court, once told me that a large banyan tree used to grow right at the middle of the chestnut-shape rockery. It was here before the housing estate was built. It fell in 2018 during Typhoon Mangkhut and damaged the hillside slide. No wonder during my first visit to Choi Po Court in 2018, I could not find any trace of either the tree or the slide.
Looking at the old photos Kate took, a realisation came to me – the odd chestnut design of the rockery was not for aesthetics, but to preserve the tree. By building the rockery around the banyan tree, it allows children to play under the shade while giving a natural visual focus to the space that spans between the carpark and Choi Ying House. Even I, an adult, had the urge to climb this curious “mountain” of a playground!
Kate and a few of her friends who live in Sheung Shui love the Choi Po Court playground, and are particularly fond of the old days where during Mid-Autumn festival the playground would be absolutely packed. Even though one would not praise the two rockery playgrounds as intricately designed, they serve as more than just child play facilities, but community spaces filled with memories of Mid-Autumn celebration in the good old days. For me, the Choi Po Court playground is one of the few remaining playscapes in Hong Kong. They attract curious minds, maintain a social function, and can be treated as a site-specific public artwork.