Playable sculpture by Robert Tully, Colorado

One of many good thoughts currently percolating around the idea of playable urban space has to do with the role of public art, which judging by my email alot of you are thinking about.   A shift in thinking of public art as something to be interacted with rather than gazed upon could play a significant role in moving the discussion of playable space away from demarcation (this area is a playground, this area is not) towards gradient :  a variety of playable spaces along a spectrum that extends from no-play (obviously say, railroad tracks) to devoted-to-play spaces (playgrounds) , but with all conceivable points in between.

Reader and London playground chat attendee Lianne sent me the work of Robert Tully with which I’m quite impressed, not least because it so beautifully expresses the history and genius loci of Colorado, but also because it has so many creative, playable ideas from which to learn.

“Tradebeads” (Fort Collins, Colorado, cobblestones strung on stainless steel rods)
“Ripple Effects” (also Fort Collins, playable earthforms reclaiming a former dump site)
“Listening Stones” (Longmont, Colorado, parabolic seat carved into a river boulder to listen to the sound of the water)

“Gather Enough People” (cooperative play also in Longmont, instructions in the form of a riddle lead participants to open the scupture at the top by gathering three or more on the platform)

“Prairie Underground” along the same trail in Longmont lets visitors discover carved grounddwellers…the half-hidden nature of these carvings would delight children.  There need to be more ‘hidden’ things on playgrounds that can be discovered, over and over again.
“Kestrel’s Way”, same Longmont trail (I really must visit)–simply bending a standard trail out over a small incline provides a vertiginous experience that children love…the feeling of risk in a still-safe setting.
“Waterline”, same trail, reminds that ‘natural playgrounds’ must do more than plop down a boulder in some grass and call it good.  Adding a carving provides scope for endless crayon tracings!
“Visions born by this River”, Gates Crescent Park by Children’s Museum, Denver, uses river boulders with minimal carvings to represent native animals, inviting the children to use their imagination to complete the scene.
Visions” is one of several dedicated playgrounds by Tully; another is the “Miner’s Dream” in Breckenridge, Colorado.   Keeping on this idea of a gradient, I think it is significant that the dedicated playground space is only a part of a collection of eight pieces that form “a landscape based on history of the mining town, nature and imagination. Five pieces are in a playground while three are outside the playground on the plaza and in the river, breaking the usual playground boundary to become an overall sculpture about creating one’s future from past materials.”  They include “Human Scale,” an interactive sculpture,with platforms that people can stand on like a giant miner’s balance. Old iron wheels can be turned to move stone animals as counterweights and balance with an adult, and there is also a small “Three-Way Scale,” designed for more complex balancing with sand.  “Slide and Steps,” is a polished glacial boulder for sliding, and historic narrow guage rails are used as balance beams.  The stone and wood “History House” is sunken so kids can play in the attic, and the “Rock Person” provides the negative space of the human figure.

This has been a long post, but I wanted to include so many of Tully’s amazing ideas…inspirational for playscapes everywhere.  All photos and text from Robert Tully’s website

5 Responses to “Playable sculpture by Robert Tully, Colorado”

  1. C.B.M said:

    I love these sculptures. It's a great thing to see children being allowed to interact with art.

    June 29, 2011 at 3:28 pm

  2. Michelle said:

    I approve! 😀 Art should be fun!

    May 03, 2011 at 12:41 pm

  3. Claudia said:

    I love these, and the idea of creating public art that children can also enjoy. I worked as an intern for an LA firm in the UK one summer, and they do this all the time over there, as a way of skirting around liability issues. They just place a few public art pieces in a public space that happen to be the sort of things children will really enjoy climbing on and playing with.

    April 25, 2011 at 2:23 am

  4. Kelly said:

    Thank you so much for your wonderful blog! I happened to visit the link to your interview about atomic gardens via Metafilter today, then saw that you live in Tulsa (as do I) and that you have this fantastic blog about playscapes. Over the past couple of months, I've been toying with the idea of building a natural playscape in Tulsa, but had no idea where to begin. Do you know of any public natural playscapes that have already been built in Tulsa? Thanks!

    April 20, 2011 at 7:27 pm

  5. Lianne said:

    Soooo glad you enjoyed his work!! Makes me smile revisiting it again. So much richness of imagination and beauty! Hugs to you! I owe you an email to catch up further… -Lianne

    April 20, 2011 at 12:42 pm

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