Swingtones: Musical Swings Built by Kids

At a summer camp with power tools, the campers helped design their own amusement: a set of musical swings.

Supermass Studio landscape architect Taewook Cha has designed museums, office parks and public plazas. But if you ask him to tell you the highlight of his career thus far, he’d tell you it was designing wooden swings for a kid’s summer camp in New Hampshire last summer.

“This was one of the most interesting things I’ve ever done, and the most rewarding,” he says of the Swingtones Project, last year’s focus at Beam Summer Camp in Strafford. Every year, designers across the world submit concepts for the campers to construct during the three-and-a-half-week camp, which have to meet a $10,000 budget. Swingtones, a collaboration between Cha, Sage and Coombe Architects and the camp, evolved from the idea of a kinetic sculpture into a simple set of wooden swings connected to circular, embossed steel chimes, which the children would customize during assembly. The further out a rider swung, the more tension in the line, creating an interactive playground piece. Prototypes fabricated in a Brooklyn warehouse before camp commenced helped the design team meet the needs of the counselors and collaborators, and verified that the technology was buildable by children.

“The best part for me was when the kid’s starting seeing the swing come together and really understood the whole picture,” says Cha. “All the projects at Beam have been exciting and amazing, but I was really proud the students could build and enjoy ours.”

While Cha’s project has received great feedback, he faced some tough feedback at home from his 10-year-old daughter Ria. She attended the camp and helped assemble the set of eight swings, which created a joyful cacophony in the New England forest. Ria not only helped her Dad come up with the name—she shot down early ideas, like Swing for the Ring—but she also felt empowered by the process. “"Power tools … Now when I see them, I can say 'I can do it!'" she told her father. What architect wouldn’t be beaming with pride?

The Beam Summer Camp recently announced their 2014 projects, Forest Phantasmagoria and Creatura. This will be the tenth summer for the camp.

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