Play Local – an article you can repost or republish

As Playscapes approaches 500 posts, I know that the amount of information here is getting unwieldy, especially for new visitors to the blog.  So I’m working with a great creative agency in my hometown to develop a better format, but I also plan to start writing some posts that consolidate past content around a theme, like this one on the topic of adding local context to playgrounds.  It was originally prepared for a guest post at ExternalWorks, and I thank editor Stephen Bird for suggesting the topic.

It is also the first in a series of articles that you may freely repost or republish, as long as you do so without changing the content in any way.  That means including the title and byline at the top of the article, and keeping all links intact. Please note that this is not true of the blog’s content in general, just of these specific posts that are so noted. Thanks in advance for respecting my work as well as that of the playground designers and content originators.  Here goes!

 

Play Local:  how to add local context to your playground
by Paige Johnson, author of  Playscapes

Playgrounds can be one of the worst offenders in the struggle to make public spaces locally relevant. Following a standard recipe of ‘kit, fence and carpet’ ensures that a play space could be in Milton Keynes or Madagascar, Sydney or South LA. Without context, who’s to tell?

Adding local context to a playground installation increases community commitment to the space, involves local providers, and is just plain more fun. Localised elements can form the basis for new playground installations, or be added to improve existing ones. Here, examples from my four years of writing about playgrounds at Playscapes illustrate strategies for localising the playground.

 

1.  Consider topography

Whenever possible, playgrounds should make the ground plane itself part of the play, preserving or reflecting local topographies.

Retaining an existing pile of rubble at a reclaimed industrial site in France allowed this playground by Agence TER to fit into a familiar local site AND be more exciting by hanging off its steep side.

Topographies can be simpler constructions as well: this spiral mound in London, made of turf by Mortar and Pestle Studio, recalls similar Elizabethan garden features.

The steep facets of a Parisian playground by BASE landscape architects were inspired by the topography in a photo of a local ‘found’ playscape by Will Ronis.

 

2.  Use local materials creatively

Everyone has heard about the use of stones and stumps to make a ‘natural playground’. But it takes some additional thoughtfulness to turn ‘natural’ into ‘local’. Robert Tully of Colorado used wood and stone to make a play sculpture modelled on Native American trade beads, and added subtle carving on a sandpit’s cluster of boulders to suggest local turtle species.

Australian artist Fiona Foley used native seed pods for a playground in Sydney designed by Urban Art Projects; not literally but as inspiration for the forms of playground features for the under-7 set.

Vintage playgrounds in Singapore once utilised small mosaic tiles as a unique surface treatment. New Singapore playgrounds should look for modern ways to continue this local tradition.

 

3.  Look around for history

The pentagonal shape of the continuous playground climber by Annabau reflects the shape of the medieval city of Wiesbaden. Its pole and net construction dips and swoops strategically to provide sightlines to city monuments so that the playscape joins the cityscape.

At the Tower Playground, Danish playground makers Monstrum took the incorporation of local monuments one step further by making a playground entirely composed of roofs from the city of Copenhagen; fulfilling any child’s fantasy of rooftop explorations.

Sometimes looking around for history means retaining beloved features within a new scheme. Spanish firm Urbanarbolismo inexpensively rehabbed an existing playground by painting all of the features from swings to streetlamps in eye-popping orange, coordinated with new safety surfacing.

And then they planted the site by engaging the local community in a ‘Green Battle’ in which 200 people threw seed-containing mud balls at each other until the battlefield/site (and themselves) were completely covered. The seeds included a grass to green the space quickly and native species such as thyme and heather to add permanent color and aroma to the playscape.

It doesn’t get more local than residents throwing mud on each other to make a great new playground!

No public space should be so generic that it can be duplicated half a world away. Combining topography, local materials, and a sense of history help make any playground a unique site for community pride; deeply attached to its local context and sure of its place.

 

4 Responses to “Play Local – an article you can repost or republish”

  1. Anonimous said:

    http://vimeo.com/16247774

    Look at this balancing… seems to be the biggest one in the world! it's just amazing

    July 12, 2012 at 9:19 pm

  2. Anonimous said:

    Hi everyone!

    http://vimeo.com/16247774

    Have you ever seen this? It's located in La Coruña, Spain and it's said to be the biggest balancing in the world.. what i can assure is that it looks more a monument than a game!

    July 12, 2012 at 9:17 pm

  3. Noah said:

    I LOVE PLAYSCAPES!!! great idea to consolidate – thank you for keeping me sane.

    July 06, 2012 at 4:32 pm

  4. Jay Beckwith said:

    One of the most powerful ways to “localize” a playground project is to insist that the dollars stay local. That means using local designers and contractors. It also means coming up with ways to play that aren't “traditional” commercial play equipment. This will in turn, will mean more nature and art/sculpture.

    For the ultimate in localization, add play facilitators and loose parts – made local of course.

    June 26, 2012 at 6:29 pm

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