Photography: Travis Hodges.
Vietnam’s cities are growing fast. Economic growth is at 7% and Forbes recently declared the city ‘just 11 years behind China’. Subways and high speed rail lines are being built. But despite all the activity, there’s still a dearth of community spaces and play spaces for kids.
Enter Think Playgrounds, who are on a mission to create free play areas that let children in poorer areas relax, interact with other children and learn through play.
Architect Chu Kim Duc and journalist Nguyen Tieu Quoc Dat founded Think in Hanoi in 2013 after meeting an American tourist who funded a play area for children in the city. Judith Hansen wanted to photograph playgrounds from around the world but was struck by the lack of spaces for children in that city. “We didn’t have any plans to build playgrounds until we met Judith,” says Duc. “Her spirit made us Hanoi residents think – and it made us want to do something for our city.”
Since launch they’ve built 58 public playgrounds across the country, using whatever materials are on hand, from bamboo and timber to broken boats. There are over 30 in Hanoi, twelve in mountainous tribal villages and a handful in the centre of Vietnam. There’s even one in neighbouring Laos.
“The kids are changing. They are stronger, more lively, they laugh more and they now have [more of a] childhood," says Duc.
Think Playground’s Hanoi HQ is a design studio and workshop where stacks of recycled materials sit ready to be converted into playground equipment. “In Vietnam, playgrounds are usually only built in well off areas and schools,” says Duc. “They use imported and ready built equipment which is prohibitively expensive. We strive to build from local materials and use low-cost recycled materials wherever we can.”
The organisation became a social enterprise last year and, along with a larger team of architects and designers, have begun making commercial play areas and made-to-order equipment to fund their construction of free playgrounds.
“We’re still beginners,” says Duc. “Freshmen in an ocean of entrepreneurs. We alway encourage younger people: do something for your community where you are living or staying. The place you understand will be your first step to making a change.”