-#TBT Timberform Playgrounds, Pruitt-Igoe, St Louis, c. 1961

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The infamous Pruitt-Igoe public housing development in St. Louis installed a forward-thinking playscape of timber forms by Paul Friedberg in the 1960s,  though even a great playground couldn’t overcome the political, social and economic stresses that ensured the housing complex’s tragic demise.   My favorite image  is the one that shows the youthful residents appropriating the space by painting the timber blocks.  I think it’s interesting that this graffiti-like intervention was ‘allowed’ in a low-income space; painting the playground probably wouldn’t have been permitted–much less encouraged as an art project for which the housing authority donated the paint!–in a higher socioeconomic setting.

Gaby over at architekturfuerkinder has unearthed an advertisement for the Timberform constructs that proclaims the new creative playgrounds as ‘life-changing’ for the young residents of Pruitt-Igoe, and it reminds me that the role of playgrounds in mid-century urban regeneration schemes has remained largely unstudied.  If you’re a student in need of a thesis project, do get in touch.

I’m grateful that I got to see Friedberg’s Timberform playground in Central Park soon before it was demolished, see the post here, and don’t forget that you can download two of his mid-century playground books–Handcrafted Playgrounds  and Play and Interplay–from the sidebar!

Garfield Park Natural Playscape V 1.0, Chicago, Site Design Group, 2015

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I really like that the new natural playground at the Garfield Park Conservatory is referred to as ‘V 1.0′.  Even though in this case it means that there is a Phase 2 play project yet to be constructed, it reminds me that all constructed spaces ‘as designed’ are only V. 1.0, and they should welcome being changed according to the needs and desires of their users.   Too many playground ‘owners’  prescribe what their users are permitted to do in the space–climb here only, slide here only, sit here only, no running, no skateboarding–and then fight back against those who want to use the space in other ways.  That’s a battle in which both sides lose:  the public doesn’t get their needs met and the ‘owners’ lose time, money, and goodwill enforcing ‘rules’ that actually. don’t. exist.

Safety, you say?  Nope.  The goal is to channel user needs/desires into safe pathways.  Frustrating the user by ignoring their desires (say, for more adventurous, riskier play) will lead them to either ignore the space or literally to break it–unsafely–to make it work. When that happens, we shouldn’t bemoan the bad behavior of the public the space was designed to serve.  Instead, we should acknowledge that the design didn’t actually serve them, and try again.

As to the Garfield Conservatory playscape, I particularly like that it accomodates performativity (note the stage) and is purpose-built for flexible additions like fabric hammocks and den building and twine-tying, and that they were brave enough to put in some TALL stumps, not just the boring short ones, along with a ‘very steep bridge’.  Hooray for steep!  Let’s see more steep, and more V 1.0, on the playground.

Flexible Playscape, Harayana India, Romi Khosla Studio, 2004

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In thinking about creating a more flexible playground space, I’m inspired by this installation in Harayana, India by Romi Khosla design studio [first found at habitatkid], whose panels move to create new spaces and new pathways.  A lovely idea, and very innovative for 2004!  For this type of playscape to be installed in the US or Europe the pinch points of the doors would have to be addressed, but that’s an easy fix.  For more inspiration, see also the vintage Czech playground previously featured here at Playscapes.

#TBT Mylar Playground, “Slipcover” Les Levine, 1967

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Or what about a mylar happening at your playground?  Shades of Jonah! I’ve just been inside one whale of a Happening! As part of what it calls its continuing series of environmental exhibits, the Architectural League of New York presented Les Levine’s Slipcover, a ‘Place,’ in its ground floor gallery…’Place’ is the ideal name for Slipcover, which consists of three rooms, the floors, ceilings and walls of which are covered in Mirro-Brite, a mirror finished metalized polyester filmThe Telegram, April 22, 1967.”    Note the emphasis on making ‘place’, something playground makers often forget in favor of making ‘stuff’.  Levine’s acrylic bubble sculptures  (1967) also provide scope for the playful imagination.  Both were enjoyed by both children AND grown-ups.  [source]

Playscapes at Fatherly!

I was pleased to collaborate with Fatherly, a website for millenial dads, on a series of playground pieces.   Do check out their analysis of best cities for outdoor play,  our list of 11 top playgrounds to visit, and read their interview with me (in which I hold forth with a bit more candor on some hot button issues than I generally do here at Playscapes.)

Play and Art in Boston, 2015 #playday #LawnonD

Tape Houses by the Boston Children's MuseumBuild-it Discs by Alex Gilliam, Public WorkshopHedgecone by ViktorGSail Boxes by Virginia Melnyktemporary play installation boston lawnond playday5Unsolicited Gift by crowdpreaserBubbleware by Matt Passmore

For the last year, installations of playful art at the Lawn on D have been killing it.

The digitally lyrical Swing Time, the  chromatic immersion of Pentalum, and most recently the giant inflatable bunnies by Australian artist Amanda Parer have drawn multi-generational crowds into a bleak convention district to smile and dance and laugh; and at the same time completely transformed the public art conversation in Boston.

This past weekend, the inimitable team of Chris Wangro and his co-conspirators at Industria Creative extended the public art spectrum from play-ful to full-on play-able (revelers running at full-tilt into the inflatable bunnies don’t properly count), with Boston’s first Play-Day. The Lawn on D bills itself as a ‘Lab for Art’, and on Saturday it became a ‘Lab for Play’; testing installation concepts and playful interactivity with mash-ups of hopscotch and drawing, lounge furniture and bouncy balls, traffic cones and pool noodles, tubes and tapes, light and sound.  Inside the cloud of a graffitied white parachute, strangers were instantly friends.  And it was grand.

Since I started writing about spaces for play seven years ago my interests have broadened significantly, from initial concerns over ugly and boring permanent playgrounds (those are now improving)  to a desire to understand the wider connections between play and art and place and people.

If you’re at all engaged with making or planning a space for play, I hope you’re keenly aware that you have the opportunity to create a space for community, using the medium of play.   Doing that well requires thinking beyond the installation of ‘stuff’, and it is a task that doesn’t end with construction.  Play-makers need to think deeply about programming playable space.

You don’t have to have the Lawn’s budget.  What if you invited your community to reimagine the playground nearest you by covering it with that simplest of inflatables:  the balloon?  Or added sails of stretch fabric inspired by Virginia Melnyk’s Sail Boxes?  How fun would it be for the kids to wrap the entire structure in a plastic tape tangle?  Or add LEDs to the swings, just for an evening?

How do we design playgrounds so that they’re flexible and stageable for temporary design interventions and new kinds of play?  How do we ensure that public spaces for play are made for people to be together, not just sitting apart on a loose collection of park benches facing a pile of plastic equipment?

Take a lesson from the Lawn on D about the power of spectacle, the need for humor (playgrounds are often strangely devoid of humor) and the way time-limited, temporary installations keep drawing people outside of their private spaces to participate in community because they know that something in the public space will be fresh and new and fun.   That’s what I’ve learned from the Lawn on D.

On this #ThrowbackThursday I am absolutely enchanted by the geometry of metal slide and human form in this 1953 photograph by Arthur Lavine, who is best known as the official photographer for Chase Manhattan Bank. I’m not sure how he ended up in Marty, South Dakota for this shot in which the playground slide (he called it a ‘sliding board’, which is interesting) is the tallest thing on the prairie. [from SFMOMA]

Swarovski’s Crystal World Playscape, Wattens Austria, Snøhetta, 2015

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An interesting aspect of new playground patronage systems are the playspaces designed by large corporations as part of the visitor experience.  These can be virtually unlimited in both budget and design conception, as the “Mobiversum” of  Volkswagon proves.   It’s certainly not unusual for business to install playgrounds…but they’re usually rather boring holding pens. I’m now seeing a trend of design-focused corporations selecting bespoke play installations as carefully as they would their lobby art.

Swarovski, for example, hired Norwegian design practice Snøhetta to add play spaces to their “Crystal Worlds”, which has become one of Austria’s most popular tourist destinations.  Snohetta used a playable roof that undulates for sliding, extending from outside into the interior of a faceted play tower filled with nets, crystalline climbers, and a beautiful assembly of close hung swings. (I’ve been longing to see clustered swings in a playscape ever since I posted Lea Lim’s Silence installation, so thank you Snøhetta!)

These new corporate landscapes are a real “win” for the playground conversation–encouraging both practitioners and the public to see spaces for play as artistic and beautiful and worthy of serious design attention.   They’re generally multi-generational; designed to appeal to a broad age range rather than ‘just’ children, as more public playgrounds should be.  And corporate playground patrons are willing to take risks in design and form and yes, money, that specifiers of municipal public spaces just can’t.  High-style corporate playgrounds are a great trend that will help push playgrounds toward new ideas, and I welcome that.

[images via Swarovski and Snøhetta]

Mark your calendar for Play-Day at the Lawn on D THIS SATURDAY from noon to 5 pm! Come play on installations by the Boston Children’s Museum and the Museum of Science, as well as rising design stars such as IK Studio, Virginia Melnyk and helloeverything, along with works by San Francisco-based Rebar Group, one of the pioneers in the field of creative play.   I’ll be there, so if you see me, do say hello! 

Two Ways Philadelphia is Encouraging Public Play Space

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Paige’s Note:  In this month’s ‘After the Deadline’  column play historian and author Susan Solomon continues her investigation of ‘playground patronage’…the all important financial support and the will-to-build that drives great play spaces.   Financial support from philanthropic organizations–rather than typical municipal tax funding–is enabling more innovative playgrounds across the country.  Susan highlights two great examples from Philadelphia; be inspired to consider what organizations in your own community would be supportive of innovative play!

After the Deadline: Two Ways Philadelphia is Encouraging Public Play Space

by Susan G. Solomon

Patronage of play spaces continues to expand.  Once the province of municipalities, public playscapes are now supported by percent –for-art programs; housing authorities; even the Olympic redevelopment corporation in London.  At the same time, charitable foundations are showing a keen interest in playgrounds as public venues and as centers of kid based learning.  It is lovely to see that foundation support, which was essential for modern playgrounds in the 1960s ( e.g. M.Paul Friedberg’s Jacob Riis Houses; Richard Dattner’s Adventure Playground), is continuing a legacy.

Two organizations, both in Philadelphia but with very different constituencies, recently came to my attention.  One is based in community design and the other is an advocate for local business. While these seem disparate organizations, each has produced a model for improving city neighborhoods through innovative play areas funded largely by local philanthropic resources.

Read more…

Camparc, Free Play with Technology, Hubbub, Netherlands, 2015

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I’m always excited to see new integrations of technology and play….these are the playscapes of the future, and even while we honor ‘traditional’ playgrounds we need to keep pushing forward with new forms and expressions that will continue to engage all ages in spaces for play.

Camparc is a pan­or­amic cam­era ball play­ground. It con­sists of a num­ber of man-size balls which trans­mit live 360-degrees video to a large urban screen. Camparc invites people to explore their sur­round­ings using these unique cam­era toys through free play. Anamorphic puzzles are drawn on streets and walls in the sur­round­ing area to provide play­ers with addi­tional chal­lenges. These draw­ings tie together the screen, balls and space in one delight­ful experience.”

Camparc is by hubbub, a Netherlands practice which describes itself as “..a geo­graph­ic­ally dis­trib­uted team of people with back­grounds in design, tech­no­logy and games….we make things with which people can have fun, express them­selves and gain a bet­ter under­stand­ing of the world.”

From the Germanpostwarmodern tumblr…Eduard Ludwig was a Bauhaus architect best known for his monument to the Berlin Airlift.  I couldn’t find any additional information on this 1956 playground (which appears to be his only play design)  or its exact site in Berlin, which seems newly built based on the scale of the plantings.  Share if you know!

How We Play – Call for Exhibition Entries! Deadline July 1!

The deadline is actually TODAY, July 1, not July 6 as previously posted.   Apologies for the error.

There’s still time (but only just, so hurry!) to share a play space project of your own—temporary or permanent, large or small, built or unbuilt—that can be an inspiring model for future play spaces!

The Community Design Collaborative and Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children are hosting a fun, new exhibition to highlight international best practices in the design of outdoor play spaces. How We Play will be on display from at the Center for Architecture in Philadelphia from August 5 through September 25, 2015.

They invite nonprofit organizations, public agencies, artists, and architecture, landscape architecture, engineering, and planning firms to submit projects.  Go here to learn more and submit a short project description and image.

Exhibitors will be selected by July 6th and receive two complimentary tickets per project for a reception on September 10th.

Skadbergbakken Playground, Helen and Hard, Sola, Norway, 2015

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Norwegian architectural firm Helen and Hard are best known, in the playground world, for their innovative Geopark, which references the oilfield history of Stavanger in both its recycled materials and its geologic forms.  They’re doing something different at a new housing development in Sola:  weaving small, more naturalized playscapes throughout the development space, as connections between ‘yards’ based on the spatial organization of the old farms in their region.

Rather than building a centralized playground as ‘destination’ in the development, Helen and Hard have taken a ‘play-as-path‘ approach.   The play-as-path concept–in which play spaces and play features are constructed around, and intersect with, walkways–allows kids to engage with the space either in a focused fashion or simply along their way, by hopping on a stone wall as they pass by, for example.   Attaching the play to the path rather than isolating it in its own space allows grown-ups to supervise the playground in a way that is casual, rather than intrusive, since the walkways are regularly in use.  And the concept is money and space-efficient as well; allowing bike-riding, running, and hopscotch to spill over onto walkways that would have been constructed anyway.

If you’re building a playground, think carefully about how it can be constructed in conjunction with path.  And if you’re building a path in any outdoor space, think about how it can be integrated with play!

#PlaySculptureSaturday: What’s Progression, Fitzhugh Karol, 2014

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“Natural” Playground Sculpture that juxtaposes the profile of a mountain range with the Manhattan skyline.  And then lets you climb on it.  Fitzhugh Karol at the Socrates Sculpture Park, part of last year’s (2014) Emerging Artist Fellowship Exhibition. 

Fitzhugh Karol’s “What’s Progression” at Socrates Sculpture Park from Andrew Borden-Chisholm on Vimeo.