Artistry and Adventure, Aldo and Theodor

One of the really interesting things to me about the contributions of Aldo van Eyck and Theodor Sørensen is that they were quite different responses…but to the same type of site, the vacant and broken spaces of a city.

Aldo’s approach was fundamentally artistic:  refined compositions with strong geometries, sculpted forms, and incredibly thoughtful layouts.  He chose to intervene–strongly–at these sites, and some of the most compelling images of his work are the ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots that show order arising out of chaos.  Too much intervention, some play theorists might argue.  But using that same architectonic model, Aldo was able to transform other neglected parts of the city as well; even carving out space for play out of the city streets of Amsterdam.  And when was the last time you heard of space for cars being eliminated in favor of space for play?

Theodor chose to intervene only lightly in the rubble-strewn lots of Denmark, and I wonder how much this was because he was a student of landscape, while van Eyck was a student of architecture.  Each designer chose, in a way, to follow their own biases and interests as they made space for play, and that is as it should be.  Theodor’s choices emphasized the inherent adventure of ‘junk’, and celebrated the chaos of self-construction–even of DEstruction–as acts of the child’s autonomy.  But Theodor’s ‘junk’ playground (the original name, unappealing to some, was changed to the ‘adventure’ playground) was not as versatile within the city space as Aldo’s ‘cleaner’ artistic constructions.

They each have their advantages, and all of the great playgrounds since stem from these two responses.  (Excepting equipment, whose ancestry is the gymnasium, and natural playgrounds, which in spite of the present scrum of people trying to promote themselves as the originators of nature play, actually arose in the social concerns of the 19teens and 20s, and have been present in play design ever since.)

I’m often asked what gets a playscape featured on this blog.  Ultimately, it must have, for me, something of  artistry and something of adventure.  Most manufactured playgrounds fail at both:  they are too ‘safe’ to be adventurous, and too banal to be artistic.  And so you won’t see them here.   I will forgive a highly artistic work for being only lightly adventurous, and a highly adventurous space for lacking some artistry, though the best playgrounds are a true synthesis of both, and the best playground designers are reaching out for both in their work.  Aldo and Theodor, artistry and adventure.

2 Responses to “Artistry and Adventure, Aldo and Theodor”

  1. Zana said:

    Sorry not related but wondered if you had seen this – great quote from it “daytime playtime”

    November 22, 2014 at 10:38 am

  2. Cynthia Gentry said:

    Great observation about the architect’s approach v that of the landscape architect. It makes complete sense and having worked with both I can say there is nothing better than when they work together enthusiastically on a project team that includes someone well-versed in designing for play. There is little worse than the LA or AIA who loudly proclaims that they know all about play because they have “done more playgrounds than I can count”- cookie-cutter, out-of-the-catalog monstrosities all.

    November 21, 2014 at 1:28 am

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