Thursday, October 2, 2008

Southorn Playground

Southorn Playground is a sports and recreational facility in the Wan Chai district of Hong Kong. It comprises a football field, four basketball courts, and a children's playground. Located at the junction of Luard Road and Hennessy Road, it has been Wan Chai's main recreational area since the early 1970s. Formerly a thriving night market, it was named in 1934 after Sir Wilfrid Thomas Southorn who was the Colonial Secretary in 1925-1936. Though the site is not big, it is often used for district functions such as fun fairs and sports matches.

Use of facilities

Southorn Playground was a major landmark to senior residents of Wan Chai. Back in the 1950-60s, it was a place of both work and entertainment. Its character changed throughout the day.

In the morning, laborers gathered in the playground to start their day. They gave each other Chinese herbal massages to alleviate fatigue and pain because it was costly to seek proper medical treatment. In the evening, the playground transformed into an open-air, working class "night club" where visitors enjoyed Chinese magic and kung fu performances, as well as street food.

Nowadays, Southorn Playground remains popular among Wan Chai dwellers: senior citizens kill time by playing there, while young people regard it as one of their favorite spots for and basketball. The annual Adidas Streetball Challenge is held in the playground which attracts flocks of Hong Kong basketball fanatics and young spectators.

Southorn Playground is the Hong Kong equivalent of . Fred Manson and Thomas Heatherwick want to retain the present facilities of the playground but make the space more appealing to a wider group of people.


The and the British Council invited English designer Thomas Heatherwick and urban renewal specialist Fred Manson to improve the amenity, which is now a concrete rectangle with games courts painted on. The project is about augmenting public spaces via the use of art. Art in public spaces is about making art for the benefit of the citizens, the community who uses it. It is not about putting a sculpture in a public space for people to look at. Instead, it is about establishing relationship with the community and improving the quality of the environment. The project will endeavour to create a public art intervention in Southorn Playground, which will meet the community's needs and address the cultural complexities of Wan Chai. It is hoped that the project will serve as a model of community participatory approach in public art in Hong Kong. In summary, the project's objectives include:

*To create changes so people will take a fancy to it;
*To make it better so people will benefit from it;
*To bring it up-to-date so that it has new significance as Wan Chai's main square in the past, present and future, and
*To make the playground a public art in its own right.

Southorn Playground and WTO Ministerial Conference

Southorn Playground was originally one of the designated protest areas for the WTO Ministerial Conference of 2005 , which was held during 13-18 December, 2005 in Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Hong Kong. However, the government decided it would not be used for demonstration purposes after taking into account the Wan Chai District Council's views - the playground is too far from the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre and protesters may end up cramming in Wan Chai. The playground therefore was only reserved for MC6-related public activities such as public forums, bazaars and cultural performances.

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