MANILA, Philippines - What would a famous, multi-awarded furniture designer and manufacturer possibly be doing in a children’s playground? Not just playing around. Because this is no ordinary playground.
We are at the Sky Park on the rooftop of SM Seaside City Cebu, the shopping mall owned and developed by SM Prime Holdings. It’s the centerpiece of the 30-hectare mixed-use development at the South Road Properties in Cebu.
Sky Park overlooks the city and the sea on one side, with mountains on the other side. The outdoor playground is divided into three sections — Fun and Play, Water Play and Sky Play — all designed by highly acclaimed industrial designer Kenneth Cobonpue.
“It was a real challenge. It was something I’ve never done before,” Cobonpue shares. “It’s still like furniture, kind of, but on a larger scale. You have to be careful about certain things, since you have to take the children into consideration. Of course, the function is different.”
At first glance, your immediate impression of the installations is that UFOs of some kind have somehow landed on a park’s green turf. But there is that signature quirkiness and whimsy to the overall design, as well as the meticulous basket weave patterns that are unmistakably Cobonpue’s.
“It’s like being in a cocoon, high up in the air,” Cobonpue explains. A child might imagine holing up in there, as if in a treehouse, until he decides to take the slide down. There are swings and see-saws, monkey bars and balance beams — standard playground equipment, but given an exciting contemporary visual appeal. Definitely out of the ordinary.
“In anything I do, I try to make it different,” Cobonpue says, “whether it’s designing house interiors, or bamboo bicycles, the challenge is always to do something different.” The concept for the playground evolved, from dinosaurs to outer space. “We even thought of adding a miniature zip line,” Cobonpue shares. But again, there was the safety factor that had to be taken into consideration for the sake of the children.
EPDM floor matting was used in the play area. While it is more costly, the special material provides better protection against falls due to its shock-absorbing surface.
Who would go through all this trouble designing a public playground at a popular shopping mall — one that itself is strikingly unique? Marissa Fernan, VP for Vis-Min of SM Prime Holdings Inc., gives the credit to her marketing team. But of course, it could only have been made possible with her leadership and guidance.
“I’m basically a child at heart too,” she says. “Rather than import playground equipment, I wanted something different.” Naturally, Cobonpue, a fellow Cebuano and personal friend, came to mind.
Water Play is another section of the playground that Marissa proudly shows off.Said to be the very first wet children’s playground in Cebu, “it is basically a playground which doubles as a water park,” she explains. There are fountains and water spouts. “The children can play in the water. It’s free,” but she stresses “they have to be dressed properly.”
The theme for the opening of the Sky Park was “Alice in Wonderland,” with Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter, the Red Queen and Alice among other characters in attendance. The parade started at the mall’s Sky Hall lobby and moved on to the other sections of the park where magicians and jugglers entertained the kids.
Among those who held the keys that opened the gate leading to Cobonpue’s Sky Play was Marissa’s niece, Sabi Fernan, the 12-year-old daughter of Joyce and Michael Fernan. “It’s nice to be invited to the opening of SM’s Sky Park,” she said, adding she hadn’t yet tried the equipment in the playground, because she was wearing a dress for her part in the program. But she expects to be back in her play clothes next time, for sure.
It was another successful launch of another pet project for Marissa, who is among the pioneers of SM Cebu. Are there plans to add more to the installations and equipment in the Sky Park playground? “There are more than enough for now. It’s very expensive,” she says with a smile. But surely, the sight and sound of children having fun is priceless.