From an in-depth article on the death of playground basketball, at ESPN:  “The crowds that used to stand four deep are gone, and so are the players. Once players asked “Who’s got next?” Now the question is “Anyone want to play?” And the answer seems to be no, at least not here, not outside.”  In the US, integration of basketball courts with traditional playgrounds is key to engaging older kids and adults with the space…loss of the b-ball is a loss to the entire space for play.  

BLOOM Urban Play Structure, Alisa Andrasek & Jose Sanchez, 2012

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Bloom‘ is an interactive urban play structure commissioned for the London Olympic and Paraolympic games in 2012, in their signature shocking pink.   It is a social sculpture–”a playground formed by players“–that requires engagement for its formation.  A single fabricated piece bears three connections that allow the construction of a ring, a spiral, or a branch, which can then each ‘bloom’ out into the larger structure either by replication or variation; over 60,000 pieces were distributed across London for the games.

‘Bloom’ makes me think differently about what playgrounds can be.  Multiple configurations from single components, flexible construction, social engagement, temporary/distributed installations…these are all places that play is going in the future.  The post-playground era is already here!

Elmer Petersen Playground Sculptures, 1971 and 1979

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(This is what was supposed to come out yesterday…late TBT!)

In the 1970s, before the playground manufacturers became so dominant,  it was quite common for municipalities to hire a local sculptor to make a playground piece.  Because of this, every so often I stumble across someone who made a few playable works in that era but was never known more widely for their playground artistry.  They’re often Midwesterners, whose artists in general receive less attention relative to their compatriots in big coastal cities.  The latest find is Elmer Petersen of Wisconsin, who made a fish in 1979 for the Irving Pertzsch Elementary School in Onalaska, WI and in 1971 completed the ‘Dragon Wagon’ for Springfield Ohio…made of cement applied OVER A CADILLAC! See the door openings? Love that.  Anyone know what happened to these?


Apologies for the recent spam…you’d think hackers would have more important things to do than attack a site about playgrounds!  Strangely helpful though, as apparently the blog has way more subscribers than I realized.  Working on fixing the vulnerabilities, and thanks to everyone who let me know about the problem.


Painting with Skateboards, Matt Reilly/Japanther, 2013


And speaking of play-as-performance…Matt Reilly of the art performance/band Japanther “adds paint to the wheels of his board and skates directly on to his canvas to create large, abstract paintings while putting on a live performance.  The process is definitely an important part of the experience both for the artist and its audience, and the end result becomes more than just abstract color bands on a canvas.” [found at upperplayground]

Teen Playground, KATOxVictoria, Slangerup Denmark, 2013

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In 2013 KATOxVictoria was selected as 1 of 4 young Danish architecture offices tasked with realizing a Danish project that had been proposed by local citizens, and moving from idea to installation in just three months with a limited budget.  

They met the challenge in Slangerup, about an hour from Copenhagen, where the local youth school (12 to 16 year olds) had no provision for play–making them “lazy and bored’–with the construction of a courtyard hangout, a stadium with grandstands, a skate ramp, and a ‘monkey mountain’ jungle gym set in sand.  

“The balance here was to create some kind of Teenage Architecture which wouldn’t dictate a certain use.. like playgrounds…These are not kids but young adults. How to create structures that are open for any kind of personal use and exploration….the teenagers were central in the whole projects from beginning to end. They defined the initial problems, they joined us in our office for sketching and they were on the construction site building the structures along with parents and teachers with an immense feeling of ownership…during the 4 weeks of construction we moved the entire office to Slangerup with office space in a spare classroom and rooms at the local metal school.”

The involvement of the teens in the design and construction process is truly impressive:  don’t miss the construction photos.

Note that each one of the installations has significant ‘audience’ space…the grandstands at the basketball court, the great geometric steps by the skate ramps, even the solid parts of the pavilion on the monkey mountain.  Teens basically want a space to hang out, and to show off.   To keep them happy, a play area must have designated seating space for an audience, which also conveniently serves simply as hang-out space when no one is ‘performing’.

“We wanted to make something that could reflect the emotional drama that floats around a teenager, so we made big things in robust materials that can be used in various ways. We hope that the teenagers will occupy the areas in their own way; in short, everything you do when you are learning to embrace yourself and the world you build up around you.”

I love to see play spaces that address the needs of older children.  Well done, KATOxVictoria.

[Photos by Rasmus Hjortshøj; see also an interview with the architects at wallpaper]

A classic self-built seventies playscape at Neskowin Valley School on the Oregon coast c. 1979:  tall swings, a climbing platform, concrete sewer pipe and a boat!  All in a sandpit.  [source]

TBT Swing for Fifteen!  From a delightful set of images of play pre-Health and Safety regs at the Daily Mail.

An early twentieth century double slide, single stair system.  I’d love to see this recreated with the support as a playhouse/climber!  See more of the history of Hanscom Park at the Omaha Public Library.

Bicentennial Children’s Park, Elemental, Santiago Chile, 2012

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According to Chilean architecture firm Elemental, Chile has struggled to advance its urban standards, particularly its public space provisions,  along with the economic growth it has experienced in the last decade.  “Santiago for example, has no single place where to go for a long walk”. This four hectare children’s park with its unusual ‘hill of slides’, built in honor of Chile’s bicentennial park, is hoped to be the first installation of a 10 km pedestrian promenade formed from an old agricultural canal.  Path-as-play!

via archdaily, images by christobal palmer, see also a lovely video of the park at vimeo.

Party Aardvark Playground, Florentijn Hofman, Arnhem Netherlands, 2013

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This may be the most unusual playground theme ever…a giant climbable aardvark, wearing a golden party hat, constructed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Burger’s Zoo in Arnhem.  Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman is known for his cheeky installations that look like dropped children’s toys, including a massive rubber ducky that visits waterfronts around the world.  His sculptures–giant cuddle bunnies, stairclimbing slugs made of plastic bags, a monkey made of flipflops, a thatch muskrat–have always been playful in forms and materials, but not explicitly playable, until this commission for the party aardvark in his bed of sand.

Surreal, but I see kids enjoying the massive scale much in the same way as they do the Gulliver playground, particularly the cavern-like folds of that enormous aardvark ear!

Feestaardvarken (Partyaardvark) making of from florentijn hofman on Vimeo.

Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam’s early crochet works, c. 1970

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For TBT, thanks to crochetconcupiscence for unearthing these images of Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam’s early work, as published in 1972 in The Crocheter’s Art, by Del Feldman.  You can clearly see the forms and ideas that would later develop into  glorious playgrounds:  the works are titled Hanging 101, and Climb, Lie Down, Tumble, Roll.  

Rooftop Playgrounds to combat ‘Teenage Terrorism’, 1957

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Before we leave our brief excursion into rooftop playgrounds, take a thoughtful look at the 1957 proposal from Mechanix Illustrated to put baseball diamonds, swimming pools, and boxing rings onto urban rooftops;  their “bold plan to fight juvenile delinquency and get kids off the streets”.

The plan itself is interesting enough, but the fear-mongering in the article is extreme:  references to “danger-hour” when the  “nightly muggings would begin…and young girls would be afraid to venture out alone. Beatings were commonplace and gang wars, fiercely fought with knives and zip-guns, were a frequent occurrence….teen-age terrorism is costing you many hundreds of additional tax dollars every year, not to mention the hours of worry for the safety of self, family and property.”

Playgrounds began, remember, as an element of social reform, providing a playful alternative for street urchins by making sand piles in public parks in the late nineteenth century.  The fear then was of petty theft and disorder, and the urchins were generally quite young; older children were forced into some sort of labor to support themselves and their families.  This 1950s document displays a different sort of fear, of an older child and a more violent crime, but providing a play ‘landscape’ is still seen as an answer.  There is a modern parallel in the way cities view their public parks, and particularly their skate parks.

But the ‘Playgrounds in the Sky’ proposed here seem like isolation wards, and it is doubtful that they would have been any more successful than were the high-rise tenements of the same era, now deemed to have been dramatic failures of misguided social engineering.

Our playground enemies du jour are childhood obesity and accidental injury, and still sometimes teen delinquency.  But the answers won’t be found by appealing to people’s fears.

Secret Garden Playscape, Olson Kundig and Do-Ho Suh, Uijeongbu, South Korea, 2012

photo by Alan Maskinphoto by Kevin Scottphoto by Kevin Scottphoto by Trevor Marczylophoto by Trevor Marczylo

The rise of the suburban shopping mall seems to have doomed the department store rooftop playground in the United States but it lives on in Asia, where  Alan Maskin of Olson Kundig Architects and Korean artist Do-Ho Suh have created a  something more that just a children’s play space; a ‘secret park’ on the rooftop of the Shinsegae store in Uijeongbu, South Korea.

They consider  the garden “a prototype for how cities might grow in the future, turning the tops of buildings into public spaces and parks”, and its goal was to create a distinctive outdoor space for the entire family.

“At the heart of the experience is a series of “outdoor rooms”—a tree house, maze garden, mist room, archaeological dig, bird’s nest, and elephant fountain. With sculptures by Suh and mechanical animals fabricated by local art students and craftspeople, the spaces in the garden were designed for discovery.

Some of the garden’s content was inspired by traditional Korean tapestries depicting a magical garden that contains several traditional symbols of longevity such as cranes, deer, mist, water, and pine trees. A prominent feature of the garden is the presence of many sotdae—carved wooden birds sitting upon wooden totems that were historically used to ward off evil spirits. These elements, along with the inclusion of regional plants, were the direct result of extensive research into the local culture and site conditions.

Maskin describes the project as being designed “in totality” with architects, builders, artists, botanists, landscapers, and fabricators specializing in water play and mist, all coming together in a synergistic manner.”   A local mother who visits the garden three times a week says, “Before this garden, Uijeongbu had no clean and safe places to spend time with children.” It has become part of the daily routine for many families.

[via metropolismag, see also a black and white photo essay of the playground by Trevor Marczylo]

Clearly I need to stop this and get back to science but just one more…the rooftop playground of the Auckland, New Zealand Farmers’ Trading Company store in 1929.  Farmer’s was the first store in New Zealand to provide a rooftop play space for its customers.   It is quite different from the American examples, which is interesting. [source]