Castle at Wilson Park, Fayetteville Arkansas USA, Frank Williams, 1980

I’ve just done an interview for a parks and recs magazine in which I noted the fact that standardized ‘kit’ playgrounds rarely worm themselves into a neighborhood’s communal heart the way a playscape that is unique to its site can.

In 1970 Fayetteville held a contest to improve the area around a natural spring. Artist and sculptor Frank Williams presented a scale model for a “fantasy play castle sculpture garden” that would eventually be known simply as “The Castle”.  Frank called it  “Seven Points” and designed seven cement castellations  and a rock in the foot bridge with the number “7” in it.

Inspired by Gaudi and thinking that a structure already in ‘faux decay’ would little show the ravages of time and children, Frank embarked on the project with the support of the Arkansas Arts Council.  Incredibly, Williams did most of the ferro-cement and natural stone construction himself, outlasting multiple assistants and extending a three month project to a full year.

Williams’ website details the playground’s constructions, and the trials associated with it:

“I had plans for landscaping and plantings that had to be scrapped. At least two bronze sculptures I had designed were dropped. And untold options and possibilities were ditched due to the practical concerns of time and money.
I pushed and we hurried but when the money was out helpers had practical choices to make and some had to find other paying jobs…ultimately it was me alone cleaning up and trying to plant a few purchased and donated plants and trees with the donated aide of a local landscaper.
But we did have the opening over that hot weekend.”

Perseverance paid off in a place envisioned for both the ‘young of age and the young of heart’; thirty years of children playing, teenagers hanging out, tired grown-ups dangling their feet in the water, and countless graduation and wedding photographs taken there by the citizens of Fayetteville.  How many playgrounds are special enough that the community wants to mark its special moments there?

At the castle’s 25th anniversary celebration, Williams noted that it is a place “where many children forget about television and video games.” Amidst all the hand-wringing about childhood obesity, we need to acknowledge that grown-up playground makers aren’t always making spaces that are interesting enough to keep children active.  Saying ‘kids should play outside!’ is the easy part.   Making places so engaging that they forget about television and video games is more difficult, but so important.

4 Responses to “Castle at Wilson Park, Fayetteville Arkansas USA, Frank Williams, 1980”

  1. Teresa Honey said:

    Having magical and inspiring places to play is wonderful, a brilliant meeting of art, exercise, and civic money. I'd stop short of making forgetting about TV and video games the goal, though. Happy, imaginative, engaged kids can play for hours with cardboard and string, on large-scale whimsical structures, and in front of TV and video games. These pastimes can work together to feed their need to understand and enjoy the culture in which they live. Demonizing one and lauding the other serves no purpose except to force a strange morality onto children: that they are earning our approval by running around outside and not by watching Looney Tunes or Blue Planet or iCarly. The goal is to surround kids with bits of life that are interesting, fun, and nurturing of their need to learn. The playground or the TV show are just the mediums through which this happens.

    November 08, 2011 at 5:05 am

  2. Penny said:

    What a wonderful treat to find your blog and then to see one of our favorite play places featured was awesome.My husband and I would go to the Castle all the time when we were dating over 30yrs ago, now we take our grandsons there to play.

    November 07, 2011 at 9:32 pm

  3. arcady said:

    That's insightful Cheryl. The poor quality of playground design is often blamed on litigation, but increasingly I'm observing that laziness is a major factor…decision makers and installers want 'easy'. It's hard to imagine someone today doing what Frank did, or a city allowing it!

    September 23, 2011 at 4:55 pm

  4. Cheryl said:

    I'd love to visit this project. Thanks for the write-up! I'm starting to feel like this level of personal dedication, sacrifice and service by the design professional might just be how such special projects come to be. Normal design process, procurement and construction administration just can't produce a project like “The Castle.”

    September 23, 2011 at 4:42 pm

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