Immaculate Conception School Playscape, Katie Winter, New York City, 1997

I’m just back from a three-city barnstorming trip to the East Coast; many thanks to all those who participated  in scintillating conversations about play and playscapes.  It’s a great moment for play, with lots of exciting things planned for the new year.  Watch for exhibitions and installations and even digital interactions with and on the playground!

Thanks to Susan Solomon’s book launch (get The Science of Play already!) for introducing me to Katie Winter’s subtle playground designs.

Katie had a “tiny, tiny budget”  to make a playable landscape at Immaculate Conception school in the Bronx.  In 1997, when almost every playground installation was the same standardized equipment (and there weren’t any blogs for inspiration),  Katie looked around and knew that the manufactured solutions were not only too expensive, but boring.  And that their forced age segregation, far from enhancing safety,  tempted younger children off of their own dull equipment and onto that designed for the older kids.   Plus, all the equipment only provided a single, discrete function , limiting the play.  [see a great interview with Katie in House&Garden].

Seeking greater beauty as well as greater versatility, a key part of Katie’s design was using simple elements, as well as the arrangement of the landscape, to create patterns:  a forest of poles (simple fence posts, painted red and blue) whose perspective shifts as you move around it, a pavilion of chain link raised off the ground and painted red,  twin grassy mounds for tumbling and rolling, and a steppable scattering of round pavers set flush in gray grit.    All simple, inexpensive, and very playable installations which allow the landscape itself to shine through.   Katie’s work at Immaculate Conception led to other playground commissions from the New York diocese, all in rough parts of the inner city, all utilizing the same emphasis on pattern, and restraint in both design and expense.   Beautiful work, whose playfulness whispers to you rather than shouts.

Playable architecture/Active Design note:  Anytime you are building an outdoor structure and using a squared post,  consider using a round pole instead.  They inevitably attract children who spin around it.  It’s an incredibly easy way to add a playable feature to your space!  Slides-should-be-wide, playgrounds-should-not-be-flat, and posts-should-be-round.   Oh, and swings-should-be-arbors.

One Response to “Immaculate Conception School Playscape, Katie Winter, New York City, 1997”

  1. Cynthia Gentry said:

    Excellent architecture/Active Design notes to which I say, YES, YES, YES!!! We had waves in the ground of my very first playground back in 2003 and you would have thought I was TRYING to hurt kids. But, you guessed it, they love the waves. Have you ever noticed the small “crater” in Richard Dattner’s playground in Central Park? There is equipment nearby, but the children roll down the hill and climb back up over and over and over again.

    And here’s hoping US manufacturers start working on wider slides. Hard to find, but when I show Tim Gill’s picture of that wide slide in Germany audiences go nuts. On a current project we wanted to do that, but the hill is facing South and the sun here in Atlanta can be very hot. Our solution is to have two very long survey slides side by side going down the big hill so that kids can “race”. Should be fun.

    Anyway, keep giving people those design notes. Important to educate designers as quickly as possible so the US makes great leaps ahead. Thanks!

    November 12, 2014 at 6:45 am

Leave a Reply