I went to Singapore for a week in July last year on holiday with my fiancee and, as discussed in the podcast episode that accompanies this post, was happily surprised by the amount of play on show in the famously authoritarian city-state -- which holds is reputation as a "nanny state" as a mark of honour.
I didn't think to document all of the playful things I saw there until we were on the plane back home, but I did nonetheless capture some of it. Below, with light commentary, you'll find a selection of photos from our journey. For deeper context and reflection, as well as more examples of play in Singapore, be sure to listen to the podcast episode.
We stayed at a few different hotels during our trip, each of which had its own touches of whimsy. But it was the first, Wanderlust Hotel, that was the most overtly playful. Its top floor is full of whimsical loft-style rooms with things like a rocket ship, giant monster, and typewriter, while we stayed on a lower floor where every room is themed according to a single colour. Our room, nestled behind a yellow door at the end of a corridor, had a Beatles Yellow Submarine neon sign hanging above its bed and a yellow hue spread throughout.
Playful museums and art spaces
Walk, walk, walk: Search, deviate, reunite. Part of a festival at the National Gallery called Small Big Dreamers. It's made using projection mapping, and the characters respond to touch.
It was a cool installation, but very hard to photograph.
This is my kind of bottomless pit. Books for eternity. (Elsewhere in the National Gallery.)
A map of Asia in the shape of Pegasus. Because why not? Also a good moment to point to the playful mapping episode of Ludiphilia.
We went to a few different teamLab exhibits and installations. This one is an interactive walk-through audio-visual thing called Story of the Forest — a permanent exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore.
Singapore's Playgrounds: 1930-2030
A whole exhibition devoted to playgrounds. Awesome.
When the streets were a playground.
The brown spinning top things are calling "gasing", the shuttlecock things are "capteh" (used for a game like hackeysack), and the ball is a woven rattan ball used in a game sort of like volleyball.
A line drawing by Cheong Soo Pieng, dated 1950, of a playground in a park with the sea in the background.
"It is very important to go to the playground because it gives you a sense of openness and freedom, and you can smell the clean air." -Ismail Taha.
People could contribute their playground memories on these little squares of paper.
Descriptions buried in sand.
These are so much cooler than the playgrounds I went to as a kid.
"It was like making a story everyday, creating a world out of a sandbox — reimagining it as something else." -Namita Dinesh
Still of a video where playground designers and planners are explaining the thinking behind these cool designs.
There were a few of these things where you could listen to the designers/owners/stakeholders talking about their playground. I found them super fascinating.
Playground safety starts with you.
Wanted: More playgrounds.
"We want our children to be able to take challenges, to take risk, to be able to climb." -Patrick Lee
The "Quick Maths" on the right is drawn from people designing their own playgrounds on a terminal at the other end of the room.
Red Dot Design Museum
At the Red Dot Design Museum we looked at the work of various designers from around the world — much of it actually there, physically present, and all of it described in brief on boards spread throughout the two-storey museum. On one board they had this collection of images and basic info on some playful designs that either won or received honourable mentions in the Red Dot Awards. I like the Maze Cube (top row, second from the right) and Element Capsule (top row, first three images on the left).
We bought this cool little guy from the museum shop after we'd finished looking through all the amazing designs inside and assembled him when we got home. (I wish I'd taken pictures of a few more of the playful objects we saw there — this fella had been living in good company among all the cool things they had in the shop and on exhibition.)
Future World: Where Art Meets Science, at the ArtScience Museum in Marina Bay.
Move the wooden blocks to create and alter transit routes.
A table where little people live.
These boxes change colour when you move them.
Good point about how the pressures of everyday life push us away from play, but we need play to reflect on our lives and develop as individuals and society.
A hop-scotch course builder.
The hop-scotch course.
Everything here is interactive.
MINT Museum of Toys
The MINT Museum of Toys. Five storeys of corridors and alcoves filled to the brim with floor-to-ceiling display cabinets of toys dating back more than a century, collected from all around the world.
The "MINT" in the name stands for "a Moment of Imagination and Nostalgia with Toys".
The museum seemed a bit spatially challenged. That's a lifesize Buck Rogers model on the left.
These tiny figurines are apparently very valuable.
I actually have two of the Thunderbirds toys pictured here.
One of a kind, apparently.
The more significant toy collections get given decent background context on the license they're based on. But I really wished for a meta-analysis or deep dive or something to engage beneath the surface level with, say, what toys mean (or meant) to the people who love them, or to the economic/business and cultural drivers behind how they're made.
This doll was once owned by the woman who inspired Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland books.
The history of toy manufacturing has more than its fair share of sorrowful and uplifting stories. This one is both. A great reminder that the objects and artefacts of our world are made by real people with real problems, and your delights can be born unknowingly of others' pains.
A step in the right direction. There wasn't much to show for the fruits of their labour, though — I'm hoping that'll change over time.
Giants of the toy world.
Relics from the height of Beatles mania.
Bad-quality photo, but I think these were all from southeast Asia.
Cool way to engage with the history of motorsport, on the way up to a collection of racecar toys.
There's much, much more on display at MINT Museum of Toys, and I photographed nearly everything, but I don't want to overwhelm you or annoy them — so let's leave it there and move on…
I didn't think to photograph most of the incidental playful stuff — I'd not planned on doing this photo essay thing — but I captured a few bits and pieces.
Who doesn’t love a splash of colour on their local government building to brighten up their day?
In the Library @ Orchard, a beautiful public library tucked within a shopping centre, I got a good chuckle out of the naming of event and activity spaces. Here you see the two "Imagine" rooms — This on the right and That on the left (they're actually called This and That).
The wave-like curves of the ceiling are cool, too.
It kind of felt like teamLab was everywhere. (Not that there's anything wrong with that! I'm all for more work by playful artists getting showcased in public displays.) Lots of kids were dancing and playing in this thing, as you can see in the picture.
Inside the flower dome, at the Gardens by the Bay.
A 30m indoor waterfall. (Still at the Gardens by the Bay.)
Early on in the winding path up to the top of the waterfall, I noticed that some of these things are not like the others.
The Marina Bay Sands Hotel and not, sadly, a huge ship marooned atop three tall buildings.
Colourful. This timed lights+music spectacular seems to happen every night.
A sunflower sanctuary tucked away at the top of Changi Airport, where it was extraordinarily bright outside before we left for home.
Building the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in nanoblock form.
And I don't have a picture from inside the trains, but these five cartoon mascots make a big, larger-than-life appearance in Singapore's campaign to promote graciousness on public transport.