Dubai-based interior architect Sneha Divias delivers playful interiors for OliOli, a new interactive and indoor playground.
How do you create a destination for children that will make them happier, more creative, better informed, as well as more aware, balanced and finally amazed?
With the long list of requirements, Dubai-based interior architect Sneha Divias was tasked to create a space that reimagines antiquated playgrounds and provides kids with a stimulating alternative in which to play.
Divias’ clients, who are young parents who have lived in Dubai since the 1980s, wanted to open a play space that engages, educates, and empowers children, but also sparks creativity, triggers imagination and growth at the same time.
“While OliOli has some wonderfully interactive galleries and activities, the first thing that guests notice when they arrive is the elegant interiors of the space, the simple yet extraordinarily sophisticated design, and the remarkable contrast with the industrial backdrop of Al Quoz,” the client comments. “In that respect, OliOli’s design underpins our vision for the space – which was to create a globally unique space that celebrated children’s innate sense of curiosity and exploration, where the journey between galleries and through the space is as important as the interaction with the exhibits.”
Divias tells CID that the concept is inspired from the conflation of four things – children’s museums, innovative playgrounds, art studios and maker spaces and creative labs.
“We created a purpose-built learning sanctuary for children providing an opportunity for creative, unstructured and limitless play,” she says.
Located in Al Quoz industrial area, OliOli covers a vast area of 2,800m2 over two floors, featuring eight different galleries, in addition to the common areas such as the reception, bathrooms, corridors, cafe, birthday party rooms and quiet room for kids. Children are expected to spend two to three hours at the venue.
Divias defines the space as a conceptual journey through the galleries while retaining the existing architectural structure of the building. The passage through the arches has a significant rhythm of light and shadows and the textured materials such as concrete, wood and metal add a sensory layer to the experience.
“There are details around every corner from birds to butterflies, pops of paint colour to quirky sculptures, and each visit to OliOli will allow children to discover something new,” says Divias.
The space is designed to encourage children to go on their own and freely explore each and every corner.
“There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way here,” adds Divias. “We ensured that each gallery has its own identity but at the same time follows the consistent uncluttered, clean and interesting design language with neutral materials complemented with the branding colours.”
When working on the concept, Divias says the primary target audience were young children up to nine years, although some activities appeal to older children as well.
“It was also important to design spaces where parents would feel good and encouraged to engage in the activities with the children. OliOli is also meant to be a rejuvenating destination for parents. Not only do they bring their kids, we encourage them to have a relaxed time themselves or catch up with others in the meantime,” she says.
The Water Gallery, for example, features more than 10 interactive hands-on activities and is all about splashing and experiencing how water behaves. The Art Gallery is designed to allow children to learn about the principles of flight, wind, gravity, aerodynamics, friction and resistance.
However, the most striking area is the Toshi’s net room, which Divias describes as “part trampoline, part playground, part Alice-in-Wonderland-style adventure”.
A giant string-woven creation filled with colourful holes and shapes has been created by Japanese artist Toshiko Horiuchi. With less than 10 in the world, it took almost a year to make it.
“It encourages children’s natural sense of curiosity, as they climb and explore, developing both gross and fine motor skills. The nature of the space also nurtures creativity and imagination, while enabling them to safely take risks and enhance social skills through helping each other and taking turns,” says Divias.
Toshi’s net encourages children to challenge themselves but with many routes and options.
“This matches perfectly to what we aim for with OliOli. We find it most important that children find their own way in how they make use of spaces and want to interfere as little as possible on their journey of exploration and joyful experiences. The various zones are clearly identifiable – but not necessarily through necessarily through walls. They would make the space less ‘open’ and ‘free-flowing’, and we strive for kids to lead and navigate themselves, not their parents,” she says.
Divias created transitory spaces that could evolve and change often and therefore enable people to come back for new experiences every time.
She concludes: “The overall space looks organic and evolving – ever improving. We have achieved this by implementing key elements of temporary, interactive art installations in key locations, and defining a conceptual journey through the galleries that are open, encouraging and enticing.”
Sneha Divias was awarded Interior Designer of the Year at the 2017 CID Awards. Read our interview with the Divias here. You can also watch our video interview with Divias on designMENA’s YouTube channel.