IU lecturer’s design work found on playgrounds across the globe

Slides in Peru, monkey bars in Kenya, swings in the Philippines — Jon Racek’s designs can be found all over the world.

One of Jon Racek’s playground designs.

The lecturer in the Department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design in Indiana University Bloomington’s College of Arts and Sciences designs low-cost playgrounds, which are then built by locals using sustainable materials and pictorial instructions.

And now, there’s a chance IU students can get involved. Racek is planning a course next spring where he hopes IU students will create playground prototypes and be able to travel to Tanzania to see their designs come to life.

As director of nonprofit organization Playground Ideas USA, Racek believes that creativity, collaboration and innovation are skills that can be developed through play. The nonprofit shares an educational curriculum to be used with the equipment.

“It’s a means to improve education,” he said. “Our organization came about after seeing the state of schools in developing worlds, with no books, nothing useful for teaching. This is playground equipment, but there’s another dimension.

“In a lot of places where we work, the concept of play is totally foreign. At one point, we were working in a remote area of Thailand and, when we met with the community, they didn’t even know what a ‘playground’ meant. They didn’t have a word to describe it. But after that first day, the kids were just all over it. The one thing that connects people around the world is they want good things for their kids. That cuts across all sorts of ethnic, racial and class lines in a way that other things really can’t.”

An architect by training who was recently named one of Building, Design and Construction magazine’s “40 Under 40,” Racek began teaching at IU last year.


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