Host a Children’s Playground Workshop like WhATA, Sofia Bulgaria, 2011

One of the greatest things about writing the blog is hearing from those of you who are making new playscapes, or improving the playgrounds where you’re at.  Just recently I contacted a school about their self-built natural playground and asked them why they made it and they said ‘well, your blog, actually’, which is a nice sort of circle.

One of my favorites of these sort of letters came from WhATA, an architectural group in Sofia, Bulgaria.  Tasked with organizing a leave-a-mark-in-the-city workshop with the Chicago architect Thomas Kong at Sofia Architecture Week 2011, they chose to focus on playgrounds and to use one of the Playscapes blog mottoes:  “Because a playground doesn’t have to cost a million bucks and come in a box. In fact, it’s better if it doesn’t” as inspiration.

Their Playground Workshop serves as a great model for anyone looking to jumpstart the play conversation in their own community.

WhATA started with a survey about area playgrounds, to which 384 parents responded.

There was one opinion in the survey: Why every newly-built children playground is just a square with a fence? This standard way to do everything is certainly not the best for our children and their education.”

Then they invited architects, designers and landscape architects, but also parents not “in the business” to a workshop.

We decided to set the following task: make a standard formal playground by using the informal, spontaneous play of children — e.g. stepping on shafts?, climbing on crooked tree branches, balancing on curbes, shoveling fallen leaves, jumping on tree logs, etc
We picked three children playgrounds (neglected) in Sofia which cover three main types:

  • small playground in the centre of the city (Doktorskata Garden)
  • playground in a park (Borisovata Garden)
  • playground in a panel residential complex (between the apartment blocks in Druzhba 2)

The task had two main points which can be summarized as follows:

  1. Make a list of plays you’ve seen children spontaneously do outside the playground (jumping in puddles, walking on curbes, etc)
  2. Following the list, try to create a play-scape (not just a play-ground) on one of the selected sites

Present your ideas by sketches and text.”

The designs they produced for three mundane, un-playful play areas in Sofia are innovative and inspiring, and WhATA hopes to realize at least one of the designs for Sofia Architecture Week 2012.

So how about it readers? Why not host your own playground workshop to start talking about better spaces for play wherever you are?  Right now, the conversation about play belongs mostly to local government officials and their few chosen providers. You can change that!  I’ll even come speak at your workshop if I can.  Get in touch with your ideas, or what you are already doing to improve the space for play in your community!


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