Also at Tivoli, this playable fish sculpture by Slovenian artist  Vladimira Bratuz Furlan.  A lovely combination of arch, tunnel, resting spot/house, and even climbability that deserves a more sympathetic site!  [source]

Posted in Mid-Century Modern, Playable Sculpture

In writing the post about the new art playground at Nikolaj Plads, I was intrigued by the mention of a previous peacock slide on the site.  Turns out this was a work by Danish sculptor Gunnar Westman (so in a way, the whole art playground thing is hardly a new idea!)  who was also responsible for five play sculptures at Tivoli and two large wooden figures for the Danish pavilion playground at the New York World’s fair in 1964-65.   And apparently also a roller coaster at the Nikolaj Plads site!   I’ve been unable to trace these, so get in touch if you have memories/photos.

The peacock, beloved by the children of Copenhagen, was in such deteriorated condition that it could no longer remain in place, but it was passed to  Gunnar Westman’s daughter Inge Lise Westman, also an artist, and restored through funding from the New Carlsberg Foundation, with plans to reinstall the slide in the Royal Horticultural Society Garden at Frederiksberg where it will have the chance to commune with the live peacocks that roam the grounds.  [source]

[Images of the peacock slide are by Sandra Hoj from her blog Classic Copenhagen which always makes me want to pack up and move to Denmark!]


Posted in Mid-Century Modern, Playgrounds by Artists

Creative, localized slides in Gothenburg, Sweden via the blog finelittleday.  Beautiful siting of that tunnel slide…

[Photo 1: Tunnel slide at Plitka Park, which is also home to the Monstrum whale playground. Photo 2: Fish slide at the Gothenburg Horticultural Society Playground]


Posted in Contemporary Design

From reptiles to crustaceans…Playscapes favorite Monstrum’s latest playground installation is based on the roly-poly, which is about the only ‘bug’ (I know, they’re not technically bugs!) I wasn’t scared of as a child.

What takes this playscape to another level is, as always, Monstrum’s imagination:  the roly poly wasn’t imagined in a static pose as playground animals so often are.  Instead, it is clearly ‘moving’ amongst the leaves and detritus of the forest floor, just as one of these isopods might actually be doing in the forest of the surrounding public park.  Challenging climbs, great ‘hang-out’ spaces, and an added textual element:

“With our new playground “Roly Poly” we have chosen to take words and phrases into the game.

We have done this by cutting 14. small sentences with information in various places around the playground that children can find.

It’s fun for kids to get small detailed information depending where they are on the playground, like:

Did you know that the Roly Poly breathes through gills?

The Roly Poly can be up to 4 years old.

The female can not lay eggs until she is 2 years old.”

See also Monstrum’s playground of Copenhagen rooftops, and a general post on their engaging work here.

[All photos via Monstrum.]


Posted in Contemporary Design, Playable Sculpture

A group of turtles, I have just learned (thank you google) is called a ‘bale’!  The inherently playful form and friendly mien of the turtle means it vies with the elephant (my personal fave) as the most popular playground animal, with the giraffe coming in a distant third and the playground octupi of Japan serving as a surreal also-ran.

So today, a bale of terrapin inspiration:

via the Tommy the Turtle facebook page:  In Union Township, NJ  Mayor F. Edward Biertuempf “designed and helped build these playground turtles out of recycled sewer pipe in order to save the town money.”See also the community gameboard he installed.  What a mayor!

Turtle Fountain, South Korea [source]

Ancient, monumental turtle photographed by bertrandom in Honduras. Do you see how the ‘ancient artifact’ detailing of both this and the South Korean turtlecan inspire the child to create their own narrative for play?  Of course you do.

Fieldstone turtle sculpture by Linda Hoffman at Old Frog Pond, Massachusetts…

Reminds me of this turtle sculpture by Colorado’s Robert Tully, a playscapes favorite

A similar interpretation, in grass and reclaimed granite by Lourdes Cue for the St. Paul Parks and Rec Department, is accessible for DIY…just make a playground hill and appropriately place your boulders!

Turtle fountains at the Dinosaur Park Playground in Laguna Hills, California [source]

What I think of as the ‘skinny turtle’ is a variety made by the Londino Stone Co of New York.Its appearance in New York playgrounds is documented in a flickr group:  Turtles of New York.This photo is by CaptainKidder

also via the Tommy Turtle facebook page, this lovely, more ornamental versionon a decrepit playground in Ulaanbaatar Mongolia

But nothing beats the Turtle Playground in Forest Park, St. Louis MO by the late Bob Cassily–one of the great playmakers, gone too soon. [source]

If I’ve missed a playground turtle you love, tell me in the comments, and if you know of a vintage playground turtle worth preserving, be sure to add it to the turtle map!


Thanks for your patience while I’ve had to devote myself to science for a bit!  But now back to playgrounds, and specifically to our discussion of this idea of playground preservation.

Fully realized landscapes for play (as opposed to sets of equipment) from the last mid-century, whether well-known ones like Richard Dattner’s, or La Laguna Park, or more obscure sites like Fayetteville Arkansas’ Wilson Park, are quite rare.  That means if your community has one you should absolutely be taking pains to preserve it!  But it also means that most communities are dealing with, at most, the preservation of worthwhile vintage play features, rather than entire landscapes, and that’s rather an easier task.

To illustrate, I present to you the case of Tommy the Turtle.

A modernist concrete turtle was one of the play sculpture offerings of the Creative Playthings company in the 1950s and 1960s (in researching this post I was thrilled to find that  Mondo-blogo has posted the entire 1956 Creative Playthings play sculptures catalog online…hooray!)  Designed for durability in reinforced concrete and constructed as a ‘tent’ so that children could play under as well as on it, the turtle became one of CP’s most popular playground features:  its realism was more attractive to buyers than their more abstract offerings, like amorphous climbing stalactites. Note the price:  $350.00 with delivery!

The turtle’s compact size led to installations, including the companion baby turtles, not just in designated playgrounds but in front of stores and restaurants and along streetscapes (a notion of distributed play space that needs to be revived!). And their concrete durability means that many of them have survived into the twenty-first century.

But not enough…a fan of the turtle “formerly in the courtyard of Belair Shopping Center” in Bowie, Maryland has created a facebook page devoted to its memory, to which many have contributed their own photos of present and past “Tommy the Turtles”.

I want to point out, again, that creators of public space must take seriously the accumulated fondness of a community toward features such as these.  Even leaving aside the fact that the Creative Playthings turtles are now bona-fide artifacts of mid-century design, why tear out something that has proven its value for something that people might, but might not, have the same fun with?  And which certainly, won’t have the same  my-mom-played-on-this-turtle-too community memory.

Unless deterioration is simply too far advanced, there is absolutely no reason why a worthy vintage playground feature can’t be worked into a new landscape or playground scheme.  At the very least, they should be relocated rather than scrapped.   In perusing a public google map to track the locations of concrete play turtles, both those that are still in place and those that are just a memory, I was disappointed to find that one had been removed for a new playground by a firm that has been featured on this blog (you know who you are, and I want to know what you did with Tommy!).

If you know of a vintage turtle in your area, please add it to the map!  Raising their profile can only increase their chance of making it through the next 30 or so years, until when they’re a hundred years old we decide that, oops, maybe we shouldn’t have so readily discarded them.

Turtles aren’t the only features that should be preserved of course:  I recently stopped by a defunct park in my own city to photograph this mid-century climber:   

I haven’t had much time to research its origins yet, so if you can enlighten me, please do.  But I’ve added it as the first entry in a new public google map I’ve created  (inspired by the turtle map) of “Playgrounds Worth Preserving”.  If you know of a DNA-like climber or a concrete pipe playground or a vintage rocket-ship worth preserving, do please add it to the map, it’s set so that anyone can edit, and all countries are welcome!

(over time I’ll be adding the vintage playgrounds that have been featured on this blog to the map; if you’d like to give me a hand with this task get in touch) 

I must say it’s a relief to get back to playgrounds after a fierce bout with electrons…more turtle playgrounds on Monday. 

[thanks to reader Mike G for sending me the link to the concrete turtle map, like, a year ago…]



Posted in 1900-1950, Mid-Century Modern

I especially love Helen and Hard’s use of geologic strata as an organizing feature because it resurrects the Victorian-era ideal of using park elements as teaching opportunities.

Those energetic Victorians, who basically invented the modern public park (previously parks were mostly private and invariably royal) thought that education and recreation should go hand in hand; both were necessary for improving the lot of the unwashed urban masses.  Labeling the trees and plants, a tradition still seen in public parks today, was particularly popular.

But they had even more ambitious plans for the Crystal Palace, to which the world had come in 1851 for the Great Exhibition.  Its post-exhibition home was in a public park with grounds designed by Joseph Paxton (whose landscapes inspired Central Park’s Olmsted) to be an ‘illustrated encyclopedia’, and they featured artificial geologic strata in the form of cutaway cliffs, shown above.

Also similarly to the Stavanger park, there was a display of industry:   a model of a lead-mine, with “pipe veins, rake veins, and stalactites and with life-size models of Irish Elks above the entrance” [source] 

These ideas find modern playground reflections in the crawl-inside bellies of Monstrum’s monsters, and the ever popular motifs of dinosaurs and dinosaur bones, which just goes to show, I think, that the things which delight us remain rather consistent a hundred and fifty so years later.The artificial cliff and mine displays appeared in concert with the world’s first dinosaur sculptures.  Sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkin’s ‘Dinosaur Court’  included an ‘Iguanadon’ large enough that he held a New Year’s Eve party inside its belly!

And you can still see the strata and the restored sculptures of the Dinosaur Court, at Crystal Palace Park in South London.


Posted in Natural Playgrounds, Playable Sculpture, Pre-1900

I get tired of the default to poured-in-place safety surfacing, but this playscape by MAD architects puts it to creative use–making two monster-sized footprints in the middle of Shenzhen’s Citizen’s Square.

Their careful topography allows for a surprising range of play within a single feature, from solitary musings at the edge of the space to raucous, unpredictable ball games on the puckelball-like ‘pitch’ of the monstrous prints.

This was a temporary installation for the 2009 Shenzhen & Hong Kong Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism…I wish it could have stayed!

[via archdaily]


Posted in Contemporary Design

Since 1971, Atelier de Launay have been creating extraordinary sculptural playscapes, mostly of wood, mostly in France.

Creating a playground is not about placing prefabricated pieces. 
The planning of a playground should form a link between the people and the space. 
Designs come from specific histories and memories of people.   
Each site is given a special answer and a new story.   

To shelter, to lie down, to appear, to swing, to snuggle, to hide, to climb, to crawl, to cross a bridge, to discover, to fall, to get lost, to find, to go down, to go for a walk, to go through a tunnel, to go up, to hang from, to jump, to imagine stories, to make noise, to move, to play games, to perch, to roll, to run, to slide, to stride, to touch, to spin, to turn upside down, to watch, to step, to meet… 

These playgrounds go beyond typical play functions to awaken the active imaginations of all users, from children and teenagers to adults and the elderly..”

Too often when we think of using wood on the playground, we think simply of boards; surely the least interesting expression of what used to be a tree.   The other extreme is to refuse to alter the tree’s ‘treeness’ at all, utilizing only stumps or rough trunk sections. Atelier de Launay celebrates all the possibilities of wood as a medium for playscapes, from climbing boards to realistic animals to Henry Moore-esque abstractions.  And their ideas about honoring site history and memory are ambitious; referencing such things as the the library of Rousseau and four of the artistic studies of Leonardo:  architecture, botany, anatomy, and drape.

Playgrounds are so strongly about the physical that intellectual pursuits don’t naturally spring to mind as a design focus.  But I’m fascinated by the sophistication this ‘layer of the mind’ adds to the playspace, and thinking about how a child might gradually come to realize that the forms on which they are clambering were studied, long ago, by Leonardo;  or how grown-ups might consider the books Rousseau had in his library while their children play.  How might you add an intellectual layer to your playscape?

[Many thanks to Paris-based landscape architects sensomoto for introducing me to Atelier de Launay!]

Posted in Natural Playgrounds, Playable Sculpture

There are a series of urban playgrounds in Singapore surfaced with square mosaic tiles more reminiscent of bathtub than a playspace; a unique material I haven’t seen applied anywhere else quite in this way.

This past January they were the subject of a photography exhibit called “School Of Hard Knocks” by graphic designer Stanley Tan and his wife Antoinette Wong, owners of the Little Drom Store, who started  started taking pictures of the playgrounds about four years ago. They were designed by Mr. Khor Ean Ghee of the Singapore Housing and Development Board (HDB) in the 1970s.  Now 76, he said in an interview that ‘We wanted to create something that was distinctive. My boss said to me that all the buildings along Orchard Road were not designed locally. So at least, our playgrounds should be.’

He doesn’t elaborate on why the mosaic tile technique was chosen, but I hope it won’t be lost…newer playgrounds in Singapore should honor this special local tradition.  Tan regrets that now “no matter where you go, it’s the same old thing. We’ve lost a little of our identity, with the same safe playgrounds manufactured overseas, all over Singapore.”

Justin Zhang of CNNGO points out the reason:  “a decade of local playground design came to an abrupt end in 1993. Just months after the local papers ran an exposé about the public playgrounds’ poor state and lack of safety standards, a five-year-old boy’s thumb was severed while playing on a faulty slide. The boy regained the full use of this thumb, but that marked the end of the play areas. Foreign safety experts were flown in to inspect our playgrounds, which were subsequently declared unsafe.  A massive upgrading exercise was carried out. Concrete structures in sandboxes were replaced with plastic modular ones sitting on rubber mats. The HDB also stopped designing playgrounds and bought them from international suppliers instead.”

To celebrate these unique places, the Little Drom Store made playground pins depicting the distinctive structures (I love this idea…the world needs more playground jewelery!)  There’s a tiny mosaic dragon, and an elephant, a pelican and a watermelon….all available on their website.

[First two images by Justin Zhuang for CNNGO, others from the Little Drom Store.]

Posted in Play History, Playable Sculpture

According to the sculptor’s website, this was originally in a playground at Bustleton and Magee streets, and Mitchell did more playground installations in the city, though this is the only photograph I could find.  Any information from my Philadelphia readers?

Also if you haven’t stopped by the Forum lately (get there via the header at the top of the blog page), please note a playground internship opportunity, and an interesting query from Michel who is seeking to combine elements of farming and play at an orphanage in Africa.  And New Zealand artist Amy Church is seeking a play internship in another part of the world…”I think that if amazing scenes can be dreamed up for movies and exhibitions why not for playgrounds too.”  I so agree!

Thanks to my twitter compatriot Nadia, the list of playground conferences and gatherings has been updated…if you know of others please add to the list.

Posted in Mid-Century Modern

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

I’ve made my periodic pilgrimage to the “Old Playground Furniture” group at flickr, and turned up a couple of interesting vintage Japanese designs:  a two-stage elephant slide (photo by yoakenobang), and a mid-mod style elephant seat ([photo by joopy).  As always, if you have additional info on these installations, get in touch!

Posted in Mid-Century Modern

Tires are generally a locally available material in developing countries, and are a key material for structures like those by GoPlay and Basurama.  They’re also often a prominent feature in adventure playgrounds, which share a commitment to low-cost and recycled components.  Friend and playground advocate Tim Gill reminded me about the amazing manual for building tire structures by the late James Jolley, which is online in its entirety in memory of its author’s commitment to children’s environments.

Full instructions for every imaginable form of tire structure as well as some constructs using cable spools and barrels, too!  Delightful.  In my backyard growing up, we had a traditional swingset along with a big dirt hill (my mom asked the workers for a dumptruck of dirt when they were building the road), a barrel, an enormous tractor tire and a cable spool…hours of fun, especially before the trees were tall enough to climb.

In keeping with my line of thought lately about playground rubrics, here is how Jolley divided the types of playground functions provided by his designs:

1. Climbing
2. Swings
3. Sand and water play
4. Dramatic play
5. Landscaping, retaining walls etc.
6. Fantasy
7. Loose or movable constructive
8. Quiet
9. Movement equipment
10. Group
11. Solitary

A tire dragon to Jolley’s design by Learning Structures in New Hampshire
Posted in Play DIY, Resources

Early in this blog’s life I posted about the La Laguna playground in San Gabriel California, with its marvelous concrete structures by Benjamin Dominguez, and the Edgar Miller statues have reminded me to check in on its status.

Happily, the Friends of La Laguna (FoLL) were successful in having the park named to the California Register of Historic Places, and generated an award-winning historic structures report and conservation plan.  Major players like the Cultural Landscape Foundation and the National Trust for Historic Preservation are now involved, and their evaluations are required reading for anyone with an interest in preserving their own historic playspace.

The FoLL are forging a new awareness of playgrounds as historic designed landscapes worthy of protected status, and in response California Assembly Member Mike Eng is currently introducing legislation that will indicate that demolition is not the sole fate for playgrounds created prior to the advent of modern safety standards.

It is often said in the US that as California goes, so goes the country, and in this case may it be so!

[photos via the National Trust for Historic Preservation; credit for the vintage photo is to Ron Brown.  The blog playgroundology has a nice summary of the La Laguna preservation effort, including an interview with FoLL founders]

Posted in Mid-Century Modern, Play History, Playable Sculpture