Explora Play was officially launched in March 2015 and is the only design consultant and fabricator in Indonesia which specializes in customized children’s playgrounds following Australian safety standards. We meet director Samuel Tsang to learn why safe and creative outdoor spaces are so important for the development of our children.
You’re a seasoned architect, designing in Australia, China and Indonesia. What brought you over to Indonesia?
I had a best friend that I studied with at the University of Technology in Sydney, who went back to his home in Jakarta and we started to collaborate on several projects in Indonesia while I was in Shanghai. After seven years in China I wanted a change of scene and decided to ride the wave of development that was happening in Jakarta while China began to slow down.
How would you compare outdoor spaces in Australia with those in Indonesia?
City and urban parks in Jakarta have so much potential to be at the same level as Australian parks. There are dedicated green spaces such as Suropati, Ayodya and Menteng parks, however most of them are poorly maintained with dangerous locally made playgrounds installed. Although the local governments are given a budget to renovate the parks they often do not engage good landscape architects or contractors. In Sydney almost every suburb has a local park with playgrounds, football ovals and outdoor spaces and they are always free.
Besides the lack of playground manufacturers and outdoor furniture suppliers in Indonesia, what inspired you to start Explora Playground?
We live in South Jakarta and in our compound there was an existing playground that was a classic home industry-made playground which was rusting and dangerous, however the kids still used it, including my daughter. I was inspired to look for playground designers and manufacturers to upgrade the existing playground but couldn’t find anything of good quality. With this opportunity in mind, I went back to Australia and China to meet playground companies and hence Explora was founded.
What don’t parents know about playgrounds that they should?
Beware of playgrounds located in Jakarta as they don’t follow any safety and quality standards and they will often be structurally unsafe. If you are going to build a playground in Jakarta don’t use sand as a soft surface unless you cover it when not in use, as there are so many stray cats and rats that could contaminate the sand.
Has the local government shown an interest in collaborating with you?
We have started to have several meetings with the head of landscaping division for Jakarta and we hope to provide them with new playgrounds, although the process is quite slow and there is a monopoly on who wins the tender.
When you design a playground, what do you do to put children’s physical health at the forefront of your designs?
When designing a playground we look at the age group and then design a playground that is challenging yet friendly enough for the kids to want to try it out. We find that local kids are less daring than for instance children of their same age group in Australia, however after one child tries it out the others soon follow. Our design team also likes to add a layer of storytelling so that the playground follows a theme which is then fused into the design of the project.
Are there any local regulations in place that you must follow when designing outdoor spaces/playgrounds?
There are no local regulations in place for Indonesia, but we have started to talk with the local government for us to create a national standard.
Can you tell us about a recent ‘outside the box’ playground that you designed?
Our most recent playground is in the British School Jakarta where we integrated the landscaping with the playground and sourced jati (teak) hardwood as opposed to steel as the columns. Fortunately the client was very open-minded and drew from concepts and ideas of playground designs in Europe so that we could build our first Hexagon playground set which uses playground rope.
Which of your playground designs do children love most?
It depends on the age group. Little kids 1-2 years of age seem to always like the springers which are the rocking horse type of playground on a spring, whereas older kids like our more complex climbing rope structures.
What is the price range of your playgrounds?
They range from a simple playground set around Rp.60 million or a swing set for Rp.20 million and can go up to Rp.700 million depending on the complexity of the playground and client request.
Can you tell us about the most challenging project you’ve worked on in Indonesia?
Our current project is with Kemang Village where the client wants us to build two six-metre-high net climbers. This is quite a challenge as we are importing it directly with our partners in Australia and installing it here.
From brainstorming until the build is done, how long does the process take?
Concept design can take about two weeks, with one month fabrication time and installation. For very complex projects the lead time is generally three months. The time period can also be affected by the situation on site.
From where do you source your materials?
We source parts from Australia, China and Europe. We have an in-house design team and 3D printer and have also started to fabricate and cast our own custom-made parts in Indonesia.
Is it difficult to find skilled labourers in Jakarta?
It is very difficult, as playground design and manufacturing encompasses many trades. Thankfully we have a good team that is now trained to work with playground rope and operate the machines which gives us the edge on competitors who only import.
What are the main hurdles you face when doing business in Indonesia?
Educating clients who have not been exposed to international standards of playgrounds or who are not familiar with playground rope structures, which are unique to Explora. It is also challenging convincing the client that a playground in their school or development will add value to their project.
What has been the toughest design you’ve ever worked on?
We are working on a proposal for Ragunan, the largest zoo in South Jakarta, to design an area of around 2,500sqm which includes an outbound course in the trees with state of the art playground and waterplay areas. The challenge is that the zoo is state-owned and we hope that our discussions run smoothly to achieve our goal of providing a much needed upgrade to the zoo and add a major attraction to Jakarta.
What do you hope to achieve through your work? What is your vision for your firm?
I come from an urban planning and architecture background and it is my vision to be able to help the city of Jakarta to upgrade the existing parks and streetscape of the city. The MRT will alleviate the traffic in this city, however there needs to be urban design guidelines established which will enforce setbacks for pedestrians, bicycles and dedicated motorbike lanes. Developers also need to understand that parks, public buildings and open spaces enhance their development.
Places like SCDB are great in that they have been planned with footpaths, however where are the green open spaces, playgrounds, monuments and public areas? Indonesians need more than just malls and office tower blocks.
At Explora we hope to be able to design the playground but have some input into the landscape design, how it interfaces with the public realm and help guide the government to implement best practice for public parks.
How does having access to safe and creative outdoor playing spaces help the development of children?
Now that I have kids I understand how important it is for my children to be able to be close to a park, forest, a beach or a playground. Any kind of movement indoor or outdoor helps the development of a child’s body and conditions them when they start playing sports. Designing a playground with that extra creative element encourages and motivates kids to want to interact with the playground. There is a great product which allows kids to get creative with blocks and make their own playground, which we hope to bring to Indonesia soon.
Thank you, Samuel. To get in touch email [email protected]