Two resourceful architecture students from the University of Sheffield have completed a stimulating playground for the children of a Roma community in Tarlungeni, Brasov County, Romania. 24 year old students Huan Rimington and Hannah Martin led a team of 13 student volunteers from five UK universities and worked in collaboration with local charity FAST to realise the significant project. Rimington and Martin also launched their own charity - Volunteer Studio - in November 2010 in an effort to raise interest and funding for the scheme, securing more than £24,000 in investment.
Part of the larger student-instigated Tarlungeni Open Space Project which addresses a number of urban elements affecting the Roma settlement, this children’s playground has been designed through a developing relationship between the architecture team and the local residents. Martin explains: “The workshops strongly developed our relationship with the children and the parents of the village, who continued to assist us throughout the construction of the playground. In particular, a large family of 11 mischievous but spirited children were more than happy to fetch water, dig holes and anything else they could get involved with!”
Despite cautions from FAST that the residents were not used to being asked for their opinions, a series of interactive workshops with the Roma children was highly successful and provided many engaging ideas from which the design team could sculpt the final concept. For many years the Roma community has suffered from varying degrees of racism and poverty, discrimination and segregation, however Rimington and Martin’s Tarlungeni Open Space Project looks to challenge the many misinformed preconceptions society holds over this community.
Besides the children’s playground the university students plan to establish the village’s first waste collection scheme, fence in the household territories, prevent erosion, and install street lighting and an all-weather road surface. Rimington details: “One of the crucial aims of the project is to challenge social exclusion that the Roma in Tarlungeni are subject to. Severe environmental poverty, lack of infrastructure and a build up of waste in settlements often endorse negative stereotypes of Roma people and assertions that their poverty is ‘cultural’. Our experience in Tarlungeni presents a very difficult picture. Residents have aspirations to legitimise, formalise and integrate their settlement into the wider community. We feel the project has helped the community realise some of these aspirations, and is starting to change the way outsiders view the village.”