Billie Holliday playground, Carve, Loosduinen, Netherlands, 2013

So in between trying to achieve 10 nm resolution with my ion beam (this is not everyone’s workaday problem, but it is mine), I’ve continued thinking about Le Gentil Garçon’s statement that he was “symbolically justifying the presence of an environment as  artificial as a play area “.   He used a narrative, of a meteorite, to make the environment make sense.  Monstrum, too, use narratives that enhance play but also give their playspaces a ‘justification’ in the life of the city—often  by referencing the invisible story of histories and ecologies–a justification that goes beyond the play itself.

On the other side of the current playground conversation, we have the natural playground devotees, for whom simply being ‘natural’ is justification enough.  No narrative, and sometimes even no swings or slides.

So one of the things that I find really interesting about the work of the Dutch firm Carve is that they make no apologies for, no attempt to justify or disguise the artificiality of the playground.  Witness the ever popular Wall-holla (see a Wall-holla in Portugal and the original Wall-holla in Heemskerk).

And for their new Billie Holliday playground in a suburb of the Hague, “Carve designed an organically shaped play hill with three ‘heads’, which curls around an existing tree like a stretched piece of elastic. Because of this addition the surroundings are redefined, focused on its neighbouring functions like the residential care complex and the houses. The edges of the object continuously transform; from a sitting edge, tribune and tree bench to a two meter high climbing wall. The two lower edges are designed as a platform, in which various play elements are integrated. The highest bulge surrounds a sheltered space with more dynamic elements.  The sculpture merges, because of its fluid forms and continuous skin, into one large play object which attracts all ages and ability levels. Because of its shape and colour the object is an important functional addition to this part of the park, which in a short time span has become the new meeting place for the whole neighbourhood.”  (And it reminds me very much of Joseph Brown’s abstracted whale from the 1950s…)

Yeah, these are weird, bulky, strange-shaped things to put into the out of doors, they seem to say.  So what?  So are slides, we’re just used to them.

Sometimes when I first look at the artificiality of Carve’s playscapes (they have also done some natural spaces but frankly it’s not their strongest work) it makes me uncomfortable.  I think, should there be some more connection, some more plants?  And if this was boring, pedestrian playground stuff I wouldn’t tolerate their lack.  But it’s not.  Carve’s best constructs are unique, exploratory, and push the boundaries of what a contemporary playground can be.   And that conversation is really important for pushing the quality of play provision forward.

It reminds me of a recent trip with my dear Oklahoma aunties (from a town of population roughly 22)  to an art museum.  They weren’t sure they liked the contemporary collection. at. all.  Yes, I said, but you talked about it, and thought about it,  and spent time in it, more than any of the other wings, didn’t you?  That’s what the artists wanted you to do.

So if you’re doing great work, no apologies.


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