Terra Nova Playscape, Hapa Collaborative & WildPlay, Richmond British Columbia, 2014

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British Columbia-based LArch and urban design collaborative HAPA and WildPlay have opened a new ‘play experience’ for the city of Richmond, modeled on the landscape types on its arm of the Fraser River: intertidal foreshore, dykes, remnant sloughs, and past and present agricultural use.    An area that was once a paddock is now populated with ziplines, hill slides, and a meadow maze, and the ‘homestead’, where a farmhouse once stood, has become a 10m tall ‘treehouse’ and log jam.    

For community consultation, HAPA formed both a Big Kids Group (adults) and a Little Kids Group (children) to provide direction and feedback!

The statement of Richmond’s mayor at the Terra Nova opening is a good summation of what a ‘playscape’ must now strive to be, moving beyond yesterday’s equipment-based definition of a ‘playground’:  “…more than just a park… a community gathering place where history and nature come together with modern-day programs that respect our heritage, while supporting our goals to be a sustainable, vibrant community.”

[images by Joshua Dool photography, via hapa]

Case Study House Climbing Wall, Bel Air California, Craig Ellwood, 1952

For #TBT, the climbing wall of a 1952-53 house at 1811 Bel Air Road in California.  The Case Study houses were a series of modernist prototypes for postwar living, largely constructed around LA between 1945 and 1966, and now the subject of a beautiful retrospective book from Taschen.  This house is #16, by Craig Ellwood.  According to the coverage in Art and Architecture from 1953, the wall ‘jungle gym’ was designed by Eric Armstrong, and the play yard also included a wall blackboard.   Thanks to Alex Gilliam of Public Workshop for the photo! [Note the similarity to the more recent climbing wall in melbourne by clare cousins]

Pastello Playscape, National Gallery Melbourne, Mathery Studio, 2014

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An installation at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia turned the sedate act of drawing into active, physical play by creating crayons used not just with fingers, but with head, elbows, and feet!  Erika Zorzi and Matteo Signelli of Mathery Studios  subtitled their immersive art space “Draw, Act”, emphasizing its physicality:  

The objective of the space is to ask children to break out of their comfort zone and to become active protagonists in the physical act of drawing. Children will be prompted to draw in odd and quirky ways; through sport, performance and random bodily expression, using melted oil pastels as re-imagined drawing contraptions.”

They thoughtfully left alot of empty space in the floorplan so that kids could jump around and sprawl out in their crayon-activated garb, and covered the floor with astroturf to trap the crayon dust and keep it from being tracked all over the museum.  Clever on so many levels.

[Thanks for the link, Kat! via frameweb]

Bank of Brazil Playscape, Brasilia, Darlan Rosa, 2008

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Thanks to Luciana Mendonça for submitting the playscape at the Cultural Centre of the Bank of Brazil via the Playscapes submission feature!  (see the button in the blog’s title bar).  It’s a collection of four playable sculptures by Brazilian artist Darlan Rosa:  Navette, Caterpillar, Hive and Cocoon, all built of perforated carbon steel.  Designed to accomodate adults and children alike, the 35% transparency level of the steel allows movement inside them to be visible to those ‘outside’, and makes for lovely night-lighting effects.  I might wish only that they were placed within a topography that was just as engaging! But 2008 is prior to playgrounds-should-not-be-flat, and the austere seating does suit the trippy utopian architecture of the Center, which it is designed to complement.

The Nuts and Bolts of Playground Construction, Paul Hogan, 1982

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“If children want a playground, let them build it themselves.”

I’m really pleased to announce another addition to the Playscapes Press family of downloadable vintage playground books!  Starting today, you can download The Nuts and Bolts of Playground Construction, by Paul Hogan, in the sidebar.  You  might have heard of another  book by Paul, “Playgrounds for Free” which is perhaps better known, but which MIT Press would not give me permission to republish (phooey on MIT Press).  Never you mind, because Nuts and Bolts contains much of the same information, but is actually far more comprehensive in scope, particularly in its reference to the play history of its time.

Nuts and Bolts was part of a 1982 series entitled “The Trilogy of Play” and Paul Hogan–playground builder, play advocate, and 1979 US Commissioner for the International Year of the Child– provided Volume 3, the “HOW”.   And how!  In this book you’ll find DIYs for everything from bridges to ziplines, in gorgeous period photos.  There are sections on playgrounds for handicapped children, and for hospitals.  Take a look at the chapter list…I love that Paul has a ‘Horrible Examples’ section!   And it is TOTALLY time to bring back the “Playbus” idea.

Nuts and Bolts is also a fascinating and international look at the playground milieu of the late 70s-early 80s.  Paul discusses the attempts to create adventure playgrounds in the US (activists currently trying to revive the adventure playground movement here should take note!), Sweden’s play council, and city playgrounds in Australia.  Interspersed are the writings of other play advocates, and fabulous photos of vintage playscapes, some of which were entirely new to me and which you’ll be seeing more about on throwback Thursdays over the next months.

Whether you’re interested in the history of play, or its design, or simply in DIYing your own backyard playscape, get this book!

And until the first of the year, you can download ALL of the Playscapes titles–5 in all now–for the price of four!  Click on the ‘holiday deal’ in the sidebar.

Please note that all of the books are big files…to prevent problems do make sure you have a stable, fast connection for downloading!

Just another Merry Christmas from me to you…books, blocks, and a free DIY download.  Get them all!

And reminding us that play can be made from anything, a depression-era image of kids on a swing made from a car or truck bench  seat.  Sweet.  From my files, source unknown, tell me if you know it!  #TBT

Buzzbench, AnneMarie van Splunter, Amsterdam, 2015

“First of all, one must choose a permanent residence for the bees, …” Virgil: Georgics IV”

Playcapes’ friend AnneMarie van Splunter, whose Play Modules are a perennial favorite on the blog, begins a new project in January, a “Buzzbench” for Amstel Park in Amsterdam:  “a sculptural environment of (native) cane and bamboo and wild bees which people can share….a monumental bench in a field of flowers that offers people a seat at the same time it is a habitat for insects.”

Bug hotels have become a popular feature in natural playgrounds,  and I like how this project takes the idea a step further to make an architectural feature perfect for a naturalistic play space. Buzzbench reached its fundraising goals via the voordekunst platform, plus donations from Amsterdam’s Fund for the Arts, Municipality Amsterdam Zuid, and Prins Bernard Cultuurfonds.  I’m really excited to see crowdfunding being used as a way to promote innovative and playful public projects, and hope this trend continues!  When you support a project like AnneMarie’s or Tali’s, you’re not just supporting that individual thing, you’re helping grow an ecosystem for funding play outside of the stuffy, limiting models of grant-funding and tax dollars.  If you’re crowdfunding an innovative project for play, please send it to me.

And quoting the Georgics is a sure-fire way to win my support.  I do love some Virgil.

Excited that there is an opportunity to have one of Johan Strom‘s great puckelball pitches here in the USA! A St. Paul Minnesota youth nonprofit organization, Joy of the People, is working to bring it to the South St. Anthony Rec Center.  Watch this space.


Just a blog housekeeping note that over the next few weeks we’ll be transitioning to the mailchimp service for blog updates and emails. Due to the large size of the blog’s user list at this point, it will also be divided into different types…those who have downloaded project plans or purchased a book, for example. So you will be getting a few extra emails, especially if you are on multiple lists! Thanks in advance for your patience, and do notify me if you, say, stop receiving your email updates for new posts. I hope that this transition will help me communicate better with all my readers and users going forward. -Paige


Far more elaborate designs at ArtPlay in Melbourne, Australia, where “Each year, first-semester students in the Department of Architecture at Monash University undertake a design–make studio project…groups of around seventeen students collectively design, fabricate and install full-scale creative play spaces out of corrugated cardboard.”  What a great program! [source, see also additional images here]

One of my favorite cardboard installations is also the simplest…the “Labirinto e Grande Pozzo” made from rolls of corrugated cardboard in various states of unrolled-ness by Michelangelo Pistoletto, created for the grown-up crowd at Art Basel in 2010, then installed at the Serpentine in London.  [source]

New DIY Download: Cardboard Play Blocks by Tali Buchler

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One of the modern expressions of C. Theodor Sørensen’s ideas of free play with junk are cardboard-based play projects.  The first one of these I featured on the blog was Tali Buchler’s charming designs within a playful community center, and I’m so pleased to now be able to offer you a Free DIY Download for the building blocks she made for the space out of discarded cardboard and tape.  A huge step above just giving kids some old boxes to play with, Tali’s thoughtful shapes fit together to form things like walls and furniture, look great, and are reinforced to be sturdy enough for long-term play.  Thanks Tali, for this gift to Playscapes and our readers!

Download “How-To Cardboard Building Blocks” here!

Download "How-To Cardboard Building Blocks"

Please enter your email address to get your FREE DIY Download! Don't worry, I won't share it with anyone. This is just to keep the downloads from being misused. Thanks!

Tali is also working on a line of play furniture, and the first product is ‘Muki’, a beloved part of the community center installation.  “Muki is a dog kids can call their own:  a place they can cuddle and read, furniture they can draw on, ​a desk their own size. It can have wheels and become a ride-on toy, ​and can easily be modified into toy box​,​ or turned into a bookshelf. ​Stacking a bunch of Mukis will make ​for a fun and beautiful room divider.”   To get your own Muki, support Tali’s campaign at indiegogo!  I am.

[See also Tali’s play tents (DIY coming soon!) and more at growingupcreative. And for more lovely cardboard play, see Playscapes correspondent’ Amber’s work at thecardboardcollective.com]

Adventure and Artistry with Luckey Climbers

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Those two words–adventure and artistry–capture the legacy of Tom and Spencer Luckey, too.  The utterly unique, and very recognizable, Luckey climbers were an early feature here at Playscapes,  back when Tom was still living.  He and his son Spencer had for some time worked together on their design-builds, even after Tom was paralyzed in a fall in 2005, and now Spencer is taking their net-encased climbers literally to new heights…witness the ‘infinity’ climber that has just opened at the Jersey City Liberty Science Center, the first suspended climbing play space of its kind.

21,000 pounds, and 64 platforms–which can hold up to 50 players at once!–are cantilevered off the wall of a three-story atrium, offering kids (and grown-ups, who are also welcome) a truly thrilling experience.  I’ve talked before here about the concept of ‘feel-risky-play-safe’  It’s the idea of creating play spaces where kids can experience the thrill of risk and the triumph of conquering their fears, in a design that creates the *perception* of risk without the *reality* of it.  The Luckey climbers do this brilliantly.  They’re incredibly safe, and yet climbing on them induces a feeling of height, and challenge, and danger.   Luckey also does an excellent job of varying the spacing between and around the platforms, so that kids have to step and stoop differently throughout the climbing experience, providing a great motor skills experience.

Always busy, Spencer has also recently opened a dragon-inspired climber in Belfast for W5 science and discovery center,  and my personal fave–the neural climber for the Brain Exhibit at the Franklin Institute. I do love a science overlap on the playground.   My nanotechnology start-up has survived its first year, thanksforasking.

[photos via nj.com and Luckey climbers]


Toy Car Playground Mountain, Montsouris Park, Paris

If you haven’t been keeping up with our Playscapes correspondents lately, take some time out to do so! Eloise, Playscapes correspondent in France, has some particularly great posts lately,  including a play intervention completely new to me:  a fabulous ‘mountain’ for toy cars in Montsouris Park in Paris!  Designer unknown, it is “a small landscape with mountains and bridges, and roads for little cars, marbles, or small kids!”  Far more than a typical car ‘track’, the mountain is big enough for the kids to climb around on as they race their cars.  Brilliant.  More playgrounds should have these.   If you’ve seen another somewhere, let me know.  

Bernhard Luginbühl, Brutalist Play Sculptor

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Given the current penchant for hashtagged days of the week, I hereby declare this #PlaySculptureSaturday.  If Swiss sculptor Bernhard Luginbühl were working today he would be tagged as #steampunk, though he began making his iron contraptions long before that particular mash-up. Luginbühl’s works–mostly welded from massive pieces of industrial scrap–are dystopian, menacing, even hazardous.  But two works in particular are of note to play design.  He did a series of Zyklops, abstractions of the mythical monster, with jutting metal ribs which proved irresistible for climbing, including to a group of kids famously photographed clambering over the art when it was on exhibit in 1967.  At the same exhibition there was also a play house, the ‘Big Boss’, with a slide, which Luginbühl himself demonstrated for the cameras.  The Zyklop is still outside the Kunsthalle in Hamburg (unfettered by the addition of safety surfacing) and the Big Boss house, softened by vines, resides at a Botanic Garden in Munchenstein, though the slide has been lowered to half its original height.

Junk playgrounds…but in a very different way than Theodor Sørensen envisioned!

[period imagery via Gaby at architekturfuerkinder, contemporary imagery via wikimedia commons.]