The Flamboyance of Flamingos

British-Nigerian designer Yinka Ilori has given an out-of-use play area in Parsloes Park a colourful makeover, as part of Becontree Forever

These days, childrens' playgrounds have got a bad rep: how many creaky see-saws and rusted swings do you remember from your childhood? How many roundabouts with peeling paint? How many sad-looking sand pits and tumbledown climbing frames, too shaky for anyone to dare ascend?

Enter Yinka Ilori MBE, the British-Nigerian designer, who has helped to transform Parsloes Park on Beacontree Estate into The Flamboyance of Flamingos, a colourful play haven designed in his signature style of vibrant colours and geometric patterns.

Co-commissioned by Create London and the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham, The Flamboyance of Flamingos is part of Becontree Forever, a long-term council-led project that celebrates the estate’s ground-breaking and radical past, while reimagining its bright and clourful future.

The most ambitious of the interwar housing estates in the UK, Becontree’s first row of houses was completed in November 1921. Now home to over 75,000 residents, Becontree embodies the radical early twentieth century commitment to public housing, and has experienced 100 years of social, economic and political challenges.

The London Borough of Barking and Dagenham has commissioned Create London to develop a series of infrastructure projects with five artists, architects and designers. These include Squaring the Corners, a project by nimtim architects and artist Katie Schwab, commissioned in partnership with RIBA, which reimagines Becontree’s neglected corner plots - found at the end of terraced houses across the estate - as new garden squares. As part of the programme, Illori's redesign of the out-of-use play area in Parsloes Park emphasises accessibility, collaborative play and harmony with the park’s ecology.

Ilori says: “I am humbled and honoured to have won the commission to design a new playground for the Becontree Estate. This area is so full of history and heritage and, for me, it’s very important to celebrate this with the community. The playground will create a vibrant collection of new, accessible play equipment with a focus on collaborative play and immersion in the outdoors. The design celebrates the estate with unique, joyful play equipment that draws on resident memories of the estate and that will create new, shared memories for the next generation. It’s only right to celebrate the centenary with something really impactful and long-lasting and makes the people who live there feel appreciated and have their voices amplified."

Drawing from residents’ stories through a series of creative workshops, Ilori will seek to capture Becontree’s vibrant past through a rich colour-scape of new and revitalised play equipment. The design encourages collaborative play for children of all ages, as well as reintroducing pink flamingos to the park – in the form of bouncy spring rockers. Ilori sees value in bringing his design skills to a play area: normally off the peg and standardised, these unique structures will open up possibilities for expanding park goers’ imaginations.

The activation of this playground will encourage local schools and inhabitants both young and old to come together with Ilori and explore memories of the park, its wildlife and their aspirations of its future, through the selection of colour and making tiles together. The only downside? Ilori has upped the game for playgrounds across the country; never again will a rusty see-saw cut the mustard.

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