Installation view of M+ Playscape. Photo: Lok Cheng. M+, Hong Kong
Noguchi really was trying to make things that are like music, in the sense that they bypass the conscious mind and they go straight to the heart, straight to the core, straight to the spirit.
That’s Dakin Hart, talking about Isamu Noguchi – one of the twentieth century’s most acclaimed sculptors. The otherworldly playground here on the M+ terrace is not an original Noguchi, but one inspired by similar designs from across his impressive career. All of the elements – the mound, the pyramid, the eight-faced tetra – speak directly to Noguchi’s understanding of play: they're irregular, they play with levels, and they sit somewhere ambiguous on the spectrum from natural to manmade.
Dakin, from the Noguchi museum in New York, worked with M+ on the project. He tells us more.
Noguchi really looked to nature and Noguchi’s whole concept of play was that, if you think about nature, think about the ocean or a mountain or a forest, it's the most brilliant conceivable playground equipment: because a forest doesn't tell you how to play with it. An ocean doesn't tell you what to do with it. We all just sort of naturally seem to know, and the options are infinite. So, Noguchi set out to make playgrounds that had that same quality, which is that they would inspire a sense of discovery and would be open-ended.
We asked Dakin how it felt to have this new design ‘landing’ in the middle of Hong Kong.
Actually, I think to describe this ‘Playscape’ as landing in the middle of Hong Kong is a very good description. And Hong Kong is so fortunate to have some of the most beautiful natural features imaginable: the power of the water and the intricacy and the divergences in scale of the surrounding islands and mountains, and all of that is so extraordinary. And then you add the densest, and most imaginatively built, physical environments, man-made physical environments. You overlay those and then make it all visible from one spot. And it's all going to be visible from the terraces at M+. So, getting to put a playground there is just an incredible honour really. And I, I know it's one that Noguchi would have relished.
Standing here, on the M+ Terrace, how does this ‘Playscape’ make you feel? We encourage you – whatever your age! – to explore it in your own way, and immerse yourself in Noguchi’s vision.
‘M+ Playscape’ consists of three sets of sculptures and a set of benches that are inspired by and feature the works of Isamu Noguchi. Created in 2020 and 2021, the sculptures are scattered around the outdoor area of the roof garden on the third floor of the M+ Building.
The first set of sculptures, titled Octetra (various configurations), is made of fibre-reinforced plastic. The sculptures appear like red building blocks scattered around a corner of the roof garden, some of which stand alone, while the others are stacked up in twos, threes, or fives. Each piece of block is higher than the size of half a door, and has the shape of a triangular pyramid with the four corners cut off. The four cross sections are small triangles and the remaining four surfaces are hexagons. At the centre of each hexagonal surface is a round opening that leads into the hollow interior of the block, and through which people can climb in and out. Visitors can also look at the scenes on the other side of the block through the round openings.
The second set of sculpture, Play Pyramid from Kodomo No Kuni, is made of glass-reinforced concrete. The sculpture looks like a square pyramid with the upper half cut off, which is then vertically divided into four equal parts with a cross-cut at the midpoints. The four parts are placed slightly apart, forming passageways that lead into the centre of the pyramid. The entire pyramid is greyish white in colour and has a height of a door. It is a tiered structure where three to six layers of platforms recede from the ground up, forming stairs that lead to the top. The height of the pyramid is uniform, so the sides with only three layers have higher steps, and the sides with six layers have lower steps. Some of the steps are divided into left and right sections, as if the middle sections are removed with straight cuts. Visitors may have to walk in zig zags when they climb up the stairs.
The third set of sculptures, Play Mound, is made of glass-reinforced concrete. The sculpture looks as if a concrete sphere partially rose from the ground, forming a hill of spherical dome shape. The hill has a smooth, greyish white surface and is about the height of an adult’s chest at its apex.
Surrounding the hill is a ring of granite benches that is divided into three sections. They are similar to benches from California Scenario. The three arcing benches are of two different sizes, one of them is larger, which is the same size as the original bench, and the other two are smaller. They all face the hill at the centre and have high backrests. There is a groove between the backrests and the seats, and a regular vertical junction can be seen between each seat, which makes the benches appear to be assembled from seat modules.