At V&A Dundee, we have just unveiled a big, bright, bold playscape. This latest intervention on the ground floor of Scotland’s design museum is by the British-Nigerian artist Yinka Ilori MBE, his first project in Scotland.
Listening to Joy is a vibrant and interactive maze, created especially for V&A Dundee, fusing pattern, music and colour to shape and inspire joy and fun for visitors of all ages.
Design and playfulness are essential partners. Play is well recognised as crucial to young children’s development. From the earliest age they are processing the world around them and learning to problem-solve by experimenting with their environment.
Just because we grow up, it doesn’t mean that play is any less important. Designers know this. They are always ‘playing’ to find solutions to today’s problems. Trial and error is part of the design process, and having fun can get us there in half the time.
Listening to Joy is informed by the often-contradictory spatial patterns adults and children form while experiencing space. Children enjoy a fluid and non-rational encounter with space while adults often observe a more controlled and linear approach. There is a lot we can learn from how children play and a lot that many of us have forgotten over the years.
As part of this project, we collaborated with a play and access expert to further explore the particular design considerations of play areas. This might bring to mind playgrounds full of swings and slides, but it turns out that very few areas for children are interactive. If we are empowered to shape our environment it fires our imaginations and helps us see things from new angles.
The playscape is the biggest scale project we have ever done on the ground floor of the museum. It is a fresh opportunity for us to experiment with Kengo Kuma’s dynamic architecture and create a new and surprising experience for our visitors.
As a new museum, we’re always trying new things and building on what we’ve learned from previous projects. Last summer Now Accepting Contactless: Design in a Global Pandemic was the first exhibition on the ground floor and also featured our first playscape, outside in the plaza. The colourful chalk games and patterns, part of a collaboration with Abertay University, was a great example of the importance of playing together, even when we can’t be physically close.
Design needs these creative leaps, these non-linear ways of looking at the world. While a bright, colourful maze may be a lot of fun, it also represents the critical importance of not settling into one way of trying to solve problems. It represents the importance of design to all of us.
Listening to Joy is open for free at V&A Dundee until 24 April 2022 at V&A Dundee and is supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.
Kirsty Hassard is a Curator at V&A Dundee