Lion’s Park Playscape, Rural Studio, Greensboro Alabama, 2011

I’m just one of many architecture lovers who admire the work of Alabama-based Rural Studio (see a good overview in a recent WSJ piece).   It gives students hands-on design and construction experience by building innovative structures made of inexpensive, accessible materials.  They devote themselves to  Alabama’s Hale County, which I first came to know from reading James Agee’s Great Depression manifesto Let us Now Praise Famous Men. 

A 1996 Rural Studio playground construction has been previously featured on the blog, and I’m pleased to see that they are calling their new space a ‘playscape’.

It’s located in Greensboro’s Lion’s Park, which they’ve been renovating since about 2004, already redesigning the ball fields, adding eye-catching entrance gates, and re-landscaping with concrete and rock pathways that both guide visitors and cover buried utilities. They added toilet facilities powered by collected rainwater and a mobile concession stand, and “designed and constructed an elaborate skateboarding park, complete with half-pipes,  jumps, and other obstacles.  Funding was donated by the Tony Hawk Foundation, and the end result is probably the most amazing skatepark that has ever been constructed for $25,000.”

And now there is the new playscape!  It has come in for some criticism for its galvanized steel drum elements (they’re recycled mint oil barrels) but Rural Studio did have the good sense to construct a complete shade canopy, unlike the designers of NYC’s Brooklyn Bridge playground, where several children were burned on the metal play domes after they were installed in 2010.

2,000 of the donated 55-gallon drums are arranged in a maze that allows kids to chase both in between and on top of the walls.  In some places of the canopy, the top and bottom of drums have been removed so that the sky and clouds are visible, and so that the ground plane remains well lit.

I particularly like the ‘shouting tubes’, and the sensitive berms for groundplay (hooray for playgrounds that aren’t completely flat!) both inside and outside the maze.

Look closely at the kids looking down on the shouting tubes: that reminds me so much of being up on top of the haybales, close to the roof of my grandfather’s barn.  It’s a spatial reference that resonates beautifully in this rural landscape.

[see more on the playscape at Architectural Record.  Thanks to Cynthia Gentry of the Atlanta Taskforce on Play and the International Play Association, for the tip!]



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