Play is a recreational activity that acts as an interface between a person’s senses and their environment, thus playing an important role in the development of the mind.
The idea of a toy library is to enable children of all ages to have access to all kinds and ranges of toys, while encouraging their physical and cognitive development. Toy libraries have been in existence since 1935. Beginning in Los Angeles, the idea eventually spread across the United States, becoming key components of many townships.
On the other hand, there are still many areas of study and exploration for toy library designs. Most toy libraries have an age restriction of between 0 and 12 years old, while certain toy libraries encourage parents to participate with the child. Other toy libraries operate at limited hours and restrict the number of occupancy and playtime due to space capacity, operational and other safety factors.
Hence, the idea of site specificity that engages with the cultural aspects determines the kind of toy library suited for an old town in Johor Bahru, as explored by architectural student Lim Si Min.
The proposed location for this neighbourhood like community toy library is within an urban area where the old Johor Bahru meets the new. Rows of old shop houses connected by streets and alleys lead and connect to Johor Bahru City Square. The nostalgia of the old town, as well as its famous cuisine, is a huge draw for locals and tourists.
The site currently comprises a parking area with a few abandoned shop houses, part of which was destroyed during a gas explosion, leaving an irregularly-shaped retaining wall.
The existing shop house façade will be adaptively reused, while the shop house typology and features have been studied, re-programmed and duplicated to suit the design intention and concept. Special case studies of shop houses in King Street, Penang, help in the understanding and application of the relationship between the exterior and the interior, as well as the spatial relationship of the centre courtyard with other spaces. The resulting design creates a variety of interesting spaces inside the toy library, while maintaining a sense of continuity and harmony with the architecture style of the neighbourhood. Since connectivity is a key feature of the design for the toy library, the site and spaces are planned accordingly to respond to the analysis of vehicular and pedestrian circulation and nodes around the site. In line with the goal of Johor Bahru becoming a low-carbon city, the toy library will be cyclist friendly and contribute to a more walkable, safe and liveable city design.
Nowadays, children living in the cities do not have a chance to run around freely and to meet different people of different backgrounds and ages in the neighbourhood due to safety concerns. Thus, the programmes of the toy library attempt to fill this social gap.
The toy library also aims to minimise the effects of issues found in the urban context, namely the lack of public spaces and interaction between people. Various shaded public spaces—such as seating, outdoor playgrounds and play areas— are integrated with toy exchange programmes to promote interactions, healthy relationships and unity among the community.
Sustainable building design strategies in the toy library respond to Malaysia’s tropical climate— inducing natural daylighting, a stacking effect for natural ventilation, and rainwater harvesting to minimise use of energy and natural resources. Since the toy library allows people to play and run around, an energy-generating floor would help convert the energy collected from the floor vibrations into electrical energy.
The library will have steel as the main structure, timber as flooring, and bricks and concrete for the walls. Materials will be sourced locally as it is more sustainable and affordable, as well as aligned with the intention to create a sense of reminiscence. Bricks from the incomplete retaining wall will be repurposed as signage for the library in a nod to the history of the existing site.
There is a difference in levels within the site, specifically between the existing parking area and the abandoned shop houses. This level difference has become part of the strategy to accommodate different programmes and activities based on the site context. It enables visitors to experience the toy library at different levels, whether as visitor or passers-by, and also creates more playful public spaces for the local community.
The design concept emphasises experience, exploration, connection and reminiscence in the different sections of the building. Visitors entering the toy library will go through a journey of sorts: a walk through the neighbourhood after school (the public green area and public exchange toy library), reaching home (courtyard), putting down their bags (locker) and going out to the streets through rows of shop houses (the main circulation area surrounded by different spaces with different toy categories), running and exploring (space for different categories of toys), and playing with their friends (outdoor play area).
Special studies on child colour psychology and ergonomics help determine the classification and display of toys. Toys are arranged in different coloured categories, which are depicted through the colour of the spaces, shelves and toy baskets.
An interesting feature in the library will be the system for transporting toys, which is inspired by the pulley system used in the Hua Mei restaurant opposite the site—the pulley system is used in old shop houses to transport items vertically. The toy library uses a hanging conveyor system to transport the toys placed in colourful baskets to and fro, which will induce curiosity and interest in children and even grown-ups.
Student Name: Lim Si Min
School: University of Malaya
Programme: Bachelor of Science in Architecture
Supervisor/Instructor: Aty Rosemary Mohd Ariffin
Project Name: Toy Library
Location: Johor Bahru
Site Area: 2,000 square metres
Building Height: 3 storeys; 18 metres
Images: Lim Si Min