Modernists at Play

It has been hard to even think about posting happy-places-for-children lately.  But Paul at Metropolis Magazine has sent me a link to a lovely article there called ‘Modernists at Play‘.  They got in touch with the children of well-known mid-century designers seeking their memories of play; including Tess van Eyck daughter of our-hero-Aldo! She remembers:

“My dad started designing playgrounds in Amsterdam just after the Second World War. He did hundreds of them, but today there are just a precious few left. All those wonderful pieces of playground equipment have also been demolished. It’s terribly sad. The playgrounds dotted all over Amsterdam formed a kind of empowerment for the child, because as the city became bigger and the car was introduced, children were more or less pushed off the street. My dad thought that only when the city is covered in snow does it, for a short while, belong to the child again. When the snow disappears, the kids have to go back indoors or they have to be taken by their mothers to a playground, and most tend to be enclosed and controlled. My dad’s playgrounds encouraged children to discover shapes, forms, proportions, and distances, and develop their imaginations on their own terms. Wherever you were in the playground, you were never on the edge, but always surrounded by something. Either you were in the sandpit or you were climbing or hanging upside down, jumping on something, or going from one place to the other. There was a whole sequence of games you played with other kids on the way, sometimes via the jumping stones or somersault bars.”

And this from Ben Dattner, son of Richard:

“By the time I was born in 1969, my dad had already designed playgrounds like the Adventure Playground in Central Park. My sister and I felt a unique sense of ownership and pride in those playgrounds. He actually took a psychological approach to playground design. One of his innovations was to have double slides, because he had observed kids at playgrounds, and he found that when there was only one slide, there might be a kid up there, hesitating, not ready, fearful, and the other kids might be behind him saying, “Come on, go!” So my dad designed this double slide, so that one kid could take his or her sweet time and build up their courage without interrupting the flow of the rest of the kids.”

Visit Metropolis for more memories and photos of Modernists at Play, including the towering playhouse Hugh Hardy built for his daughter and her friends – image 2, above.

[image 1: Dijkstraat Playground, Gemeente Amsterdam Stadsarchief, Dienst Ruimtelijke Ordening/courtesy MoMA and via Metropolis Magazine. image 2 by Norman McGrath, via Metropolis Magazine. image 3: Richard Dattner]


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