You could hardly be farther from the tropics than Norway but it’s where the ‘jungle’ or ‘Tarzan’ playground of tires and flying ropes has flourished for the past twenty-five years. Even more curiously, this unique playground type–to my knowledge found only in the Land of the Midnight Sun–arrived via…Alabama?
Mild-mannered child development professor Tom Jambor, who like so many got his start in playgrounds when he was dissatisfied with the play provision for his own children, spent his sabbatical at Volda Teacher Skule in 1982-1983. He had already constructed around 50 playgrounds back in Alabama, using wood poles and recycled tires arranged in a series of play moments that allowed for multiple entry points and encouraged children to flow through the playground space. Tom called his designs ‘playscapes’ (an early use of the term) and they are still available on his website.
In Norway, Tom’s ideas collided headlong with those of Asbjørn Flemmen–a professor at Volda–who was interested in motion. Together with the parents of Heltne hamlet Skule Volda they built a playground on a sloping hillside. There was no budget, so they used discarded tires and herring rope and sited them within a grove of trees that formed the ‘jungle’. (See the vintage video below…in Norwegian only!) This looks like one of the most fun playgrounds environments I’ve ever seen, and prefigures many pieces of commercial rope equipment now sold for unseemly amounts of money.
Tom went back to America, but Asbjørn kept developing the jungle playground concept in Norway. You can see the motion-rich ideas percolating and growing in his installation at a nursery school in 1989, and a test and demonstration area at Volda College in 1995 (later taken over by the municipality) where telephone poles replace the earlier trees as supports for the flying rope ‘vines’.
More on Norway’s jungle playgrounds tomorrow!