Path as Play: Barnetraak, TYIN Tegnestue and Rintala Eggertsson, Gran Norway, 2013

I wanted to follow up on an element of Susan Solomon’s last post, the Barnetraak project of TYIN Tegnestue in collaboration with Rintala Eggertsson Architects.  The playable installation was funded (surprise!) by the Norwegian department of ROADS!  They intend the modular forms to be a prototype for other potential installations.

“The main aim of the project is to encourage activity in children and youngsters, by adding appeal to the options of walking or biking to school. Inactivity is a growing concern in this age group, and this project is one of many countermeasures to mend this negative development.

These small meeting places are placed along the school road in Gran. The separate and independent units are painted in strong colours, fulfilling simple and diverse functions. The main idea behind the project came into being after arranging a series of workshops for the children that would later make use of the modules. The modules can stand on their own or in clusters. At them, the kids can meet up on the way to or from school. The modules answer to practical concern while inviting play and social interaction.”

I’ve always found it strange that our primary model for play in American is the creation of centralized sites to which children are driven in cars.   This is particularly true in suburban and rural areas, such as those where the Barnetraak modules were installed.  Centralized playgrounds can make play and the physical exertion associated with it a singular event; a destination, something done on special occasions once-in-a-while.  And we should have playgrounds like that.  But affecting a child’s physical and mental health through the medium of play requires a more constant presence.

Playable features installed at a variety of scales from small (hoppable patterns in the sidewalk) to medium (retaining walls that allow, rather than forbid, balancing along their tops) to large (playable bus stops and huts like Barnetraak) give the child a playable route through their individual landscape.  They welcome the child into the built environment, facilitating healthy physical interactions many times a day instead of once on a weekend.  In their best forms, they also draw children and adults into more frequent community interactions than do destination playgrounds, and the spaces are naturally supervised because of foot traffic along existing paths.  The clustered huts of the Barnetraak project would be something completely different–something less–if they were clustered in an isolated traditional playground space, rather than along the road.

I recently had a conversation with some nice folks at ARUP, the builder of cities.  We discussed the siting of playgrounds and how placing them along paths as integral elements of the wider planning scheme instead of at the end of paths as some sort of destination alleviates many vexing playground concerns.  If in your design process you are debating whether or not your playground needs a fence, or can be properly supervised, you have most likely sited it badly.  Start over, and put it on a path!  Better yet, consider whether the elements you were going to put in your playground-as-destination would be more effective reorganized along a traffic route to become a playground-as-path.

[images via ArchDaily]

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