Octetra, Isamu Noguchi, 1968

Dattner’s structure are themselves derivative in some ways of Isamu Noguchi’s Octetra, originally cast in concrete and installed near the Spoleto Cathedral in Italy in 1968 and then subsequently re-made in fiberglass and installed at numerous locations around the world (I’m not quite sure how this works…are all of these considered ‘Noguchi’s’?)   While honoring Noguchi as a sculptor, one must be careful of being too deferential to him as a playground designer.  Octetra is scaled for monumentality rather than for children; compare its size to Dattner’s construct.  And the need to set it up on blocks to enable entry from beneath is an awkward compromise between the sculpture and the play.  (Note that the later fiberglass versions simply rest on the ground; improving the sculpture but removing a play feature).

Someday I will have the time to write an entire blogpost on Noguchi’s playgrounds, but today, waiting for a train in Paddington Station, is not that day.  For now I will just say that as with Octetra, it is the sculptural qualities that drive even his play designs, not the play experience itself, which leads to an uneasy rapprochement between the visual and the play experience.

This is an important issue in the design of public features intended to be experienced both as sculpture and as playscape.  Which part of that experience is most important?  Is it possible to reach a greater unity between them than Noguchi did with  Octetra?  Do you know of public play sculptures that do?

3 Responses to “Octetra, Isamu Noguchi, 1968”

  1. arcady said:

    Hi Frank! I wish I could do a map of all the playgrounds but the google utility only allows mapping of the last fifty posts! My programming skills aren't good enough to come up with my own utility, alas.

    June 29, 2011 at 4:11 pm

  2. frank said:

    hi, I love your blog! But I have a question… could you put on the map all the playgrounds you write on from the start to today? because I'd like to find playground near me or near my holiday and it is very difficult to find them just with the search…
    thank you for your work!
    frank (from rome, italy)

    June 29, 2011 at 3:36 pm

  3. Cheryl said:

    Thanks for bringing up the difference between sculptural quality and play value. For designed public playgrounds, the fundamental opposition is between designers, teachers, observers who seek formal beauty, order, and safety, achieved through careful placement of fixed objects, and kids' need to play/learn by manipulating their environments, which results in “disorder,” unpredictability, and “chaos.” Thank you for pointing out that this opposition is no less present in the work of a “master” than with some garish plastic thing ordered from a catalog. But what kids need most is to learn to become change agents in their growing worlds, and the playground is the perfect setting for this.

    June 25, 2011 at 12:03 pm

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