I’ve long admired this small-town playground by German landscape architect Stefan Laport for the lessons it holds for small playgrounds (backyards, schools, churches) everywhere.  It’s a simple arrangement of elements that can be adapted to a variety of sites, styles, and budgets.

1.  Start with a hill!   Playgrounds-should-not-be-flat, remember, and when in doubt start with a hill as the organizing feature of any playscape.  Make it as big as your site and budget allows; a bigger hill is also great for bikes and winter sports.

2.  Add different ways to go up and down the hill.  The Hornbach playground has an enticing set of large and small boulders that allow different routes, and also conveniently serve as benches on the lower part of the hill.  A child can also just scramble/bike/sled up and down the grassy sides, or creep up through the shrubberies.  Other options could be a stump scramble, or a rope-banister to pull up on hand-over-hand, or  a flying fox with which to descend.    The slide descent could also be varied according to the size and slope of the hill;  this same sort of arrangement would work wonderfully with a wide multi-user slide, for example.

3.  Make a feature on top of the hill.  To a small child, the hill is a big challenge and there should be something at the top worthy of the climb.  The house on the top of the Hornbach hill appropriately references the historic shapes and stoneworks of the monastery town.  But you can easily see how it could be replaced by a house with a completely different local reference  (like a log house, in certain American contexts), or by a far more contemporary design (an avant-garde playhouse that doesn’t necessarily even look like a house, or a playable sculpture), and could be more  or less expensive as budget dictates.

4.  Spill sand at the bottom of the hill.    The playground started in the sandpit, and sand both honors this history and the fact that sand and loose parts play are still essential on the playground.  The sandpit could also have boulders and stumps, or a water feature, or a small balance beam,  or any number of other features, and can be larger or smaller as necessary, but should always have loose parts available!

This mini-formula for a playspace can be carried out at less expense and difficulty than a set of standardized equipment, but note that this design by no means excludes them completely; it integrates easily with the addition of things like swings for dynamic motion or a net climber for upper body development, or adventure and natural playground elements like a den-building area or a felled tree.    I”d love to see more small schools, day-care centers, and churches use this ‘house on a hill’  playscape as a model, adapting it for their needs and local context,  instead of defaulting to a catalogue purchase.

Posted in Natural Playgrounds, Play DIY

2 schools (El Khods in Ard El Lewa and Shoubra)
25 students from Egypt
11 students from Germany
9 cmq of bricks
12 precompressed concrete tubes
25 trees
65 children
12 days of planning, designing, implementing
2 courtyards to be re-designed
1 cooperation agreement with the Ministry of Education

(Prof. Barbara Pampe & Prof. Vittoria Capresi, Architecture and Urban Design Program of the German University Cairo in cooperation with Prof. Susanne Hofmann and the Baupiloten (Technical University Berlin) and Omar Nagati (Cluster Cairo)

Wood and brick boxes are used to make a series of in-out-over-under spaces for two primary school courtyards in Cairo, and they did not neglect to add plants! Simple, durable, clever, fun, by Susanne Hofmann Architekten, who have appeared on the blog before for the inside-out spaces of their Taka Taku Land Preschool.

It’s fascinating how these boxes are essentially a simplified version of the far more elaborate interior play wall Susanne Hofmann Architekten built for a primary school in the first world, and what that says about the difference and distance between these two school playscapes. Both are beautiful.

Posted in Contemporary Design
  • The Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, PA sends news of their upcoming focus on play for the 2013 Carnegie International, for which they have installed a ‘Lozziwurm‘ by Swiss artist Yvan Pestalozzi, who developed the ‘wurm’ in 1972.  It’s in conjunction with the “Playground Project”; an exhibition on the history of post-war playgrounds by Gabriela Burkharter of Architekturfuerkinder. The Playground Project will be on view for museum visitors from June 10 to August 23, 2013, and then October 4, 2013, to March 16, 2014.  See also a great post on the Lozziwurm at daddytypes.
  • Playscapes friend Jay Beckwith sent me an email wondering if Maria Montessori was the originator of the cube-like climbing frames from last week.  I don’t know…do any of my Montessori readers?
  • The trend for massive interior slides in the homes of the super-rich continues with a 4-story Carsten Holler-esque construct in Manhattan.  When slides become a vanity item, you know the profile of play architecture has been raised.
Posted in Mid-Century Modern, Playable Sculpture


I’ve been thinking about the climbing frames of Florian Aigner, too, which are a sort of distortion of the tidy traditional boxes below.  At London for Play I talked about the idea of ‘feel risky play safe’, in which the impression of risk is created on the playground even though all pertinent safety standards are covered.  A key way to do this is with tilted surfaces.

Aigner makes climbers that look like they’re going to fall down.  And therein lies the excitement; the sense of daring in the climbing.

Like Helle Nebelong, Florian maintains that excessively ‘safe’ playgrounds are actually more dangerous, because they lead to inattentiveness:  “Once the child thinks “I can do it all,  I don’t need to pay attention’, he becomes careless.”  In Alger’s playgrounds, though “there are simply no flat surfaces…only stumbling blocks….the children must always be careful and that’s why nothing will happen.”

Aigner works only in oak set into steel tubes at the ground.  He eschews traditional bright playground colors so that his climbers ‘disappear’, enhancing the child’s feeling of discovering the space.

Ooh, that’s a new learning for me.  I hadn’t thought before about how static, how rigid the lines of a brightly colored playground are, and how that could potentially make the spaces feel so contrived and obvious.

Most of the references to Aigner’s work are in German, so I had difficulty finding the locations of his climbers, though apparently there are many scattered about the world.   If you know the location of an Aigner climbing tower (or if you have better photos than these low res ones), get in touch!

Posted in Natural Playgrounds

And having seen the playground climber in Previ, I’ll leave you to your own conclusions about the inspiration of conceptual artist Sol Lewitt…

[Image: Sol Lewitt, Cubic Construction, 1971. Photo by MoMA via archpaper]

Posted in Art About Playgrounds

“The site of the PREVI international architecture competition was located some kilometres north of the built border of Lima in the 1960s…The competition brief of 1968 was to design a high-density housing scheme comprising 1,500 family units, each enabling the possibility of further growth….Today, 40 years later, the …The original architecture has almost disappeared…The conception of the voids by Peter Land’s master plan has survived the growth of the development…

A large recreation area is situated in one corner of the PREVI, next to the abandoned factory complex of Montagne. A sandy area accommodates a football pitch and a basketball court. Beyond the football pitch is the playground, framed by prefabricated benches.

The playground consists mainly of a family of different objects installed on a flat plot. Slim steel arches held together by slight bridges suggest a fragile tunnel that invites children to climb, hang on or slip through it. Another climbing frame beside it is a hybrid grid of vertical and horizontal steel bars, frames of cubes stacked one on top of another. Contrasting with these lightweight constructions is a large concrete base, a sloping sunken semi-circle overlooking the pitch. In the middle of it stands a slide, its chute fixed by ties…

This assembly of highly static, geometric abstract objects, their gravity-defying impression of lightness and the sculptured border all recall the playgrounds of post-war Amsterdam designed by Aldo van Eyck for Amsterdam’s Department of Public Works. Van Eyck addressed the issue of interstitial voids and defined space and place, producing interventions that were both numerous and ephemeral. His ambition of creating a space for children that was “more durable than snow” was realized in the desert of Lima.”

excerpted from WALKWAYS, OASES AND PLAYGROUNDS – COLLECTIVE SPACES IN THE PREVI by Marianne Baumgartner at digital architectural papers.

[Photo 1 via domus. Photo 2 by nicolas hunkeler, via digitalarchitecturalpapers]

See also a domus article on the Previ project


Posted in Mid-Century Modern, Play Heroes

We’ve talked before about ‘real stuff on the playground‘–repurposing items like train cars and jet planes–that was once a common playground practice but has fallen out of favor, at least in the West.  But repurposing is still a common theme of play spaces in developing countries, and charmingly so in this playground for a children’s hospital in Malawi, which repurposed an an old Land Cruiser as an ambulance!

Made wheelchair accessible with the using of appropriate concrete pavements and ramps, the ambulance becomes a clubhouse/swingset/climber all in one. The installation is by Peter Meijer, director of Sakaramenta–a social enterprise which employs Malawians to produce bicycle carts and other items–along with designers Luc van Hoeckel and Pim van Baarsen.

[photos by sakaramenta, via designboom]


Posted in Contemporary Design

UPDATES:  Anders Dahlbäck, landscape architect for the city of Malmö has been in touch with additional information and photos.   It turns out that the Green Wave slide is actually in the same park as the Puckelball pitch, and the excess dirt from excavation of the pitch was used to build the hill for the slide.  It’s part of a complete adventurous space that also includes a concrete stage with motion-activated water jets, paths through the trees, and a circular route that kids can traverse without ever touching the ground.  Thanks Anders!

Okay, back to the original post:

Malmö Sweden’s Krocksbäcksparken, home to the Puckelball pitch, has added another morphic form to its play repertoire. This time it’s a giant communal slide, design by landscape architect Anders Dahlbäck (couldn’t find a website for him, any help?) with nets by Corocord.  

Though undoubtedly the central feature, he slide is only a part of it of a long narrow strip of ground enlivened first by forming wave-shaped hills–yet another example of great new play spaces based on shaping the ground plane.  Playgrounds-should-not-be-flat.

You’ve seen Corocord’s climbing nets before; most notably in the Annabau playground in Wiesbaden.  But this time, rather than being attached to posts, they’re attached to lateral climbing panels that are also playable.

There are some good lessons here…without the shaping of the ground plane, this would be just another set of equipment.  Utilizing the hill forms turn it into a landscape; a playscape.   This is essentially a bigger and fancier version of the hill slide that is one of the best additions to early childhood playscapes.  It also reminds us that wide slides are way more fun than narrow ones because they allow the sliding to become group play. Hooray for communal hill slides!

Photos 1-3: Anders Dahlbäck. Photo 4: Corocord


Posted in Contemporary Design

Another playscape I’m thinking about going into the New Year is the Beetsplein playground by NL Architects in conjunction with DS Landschapsarchitecten.  (NL Architects also designed the WOS 8 building, another of the most popular posts on Playscapes).

When I was in New York at the MoMA event, I had this weird conversation with someone from the playground world who asserted that nothing interesting, or innovative, or new was happening in playgrounds.  I countered that playgrounds are finally being seen as landscapes, not collections of equipment, and that in particular the creation of three-dimensional ground planes (known here at Playscapes as playgrounds-should-not-be-flat)  was really changing how playgrounds look and play.   He remained belligerently unconvinced that this mattered, probably because he installs collections of equipment.

But I love how the Beetsplein playground demonstrates that change, and its importance and possibilities.  In placement (a small unfenced neighborhood square) and geometry  (a circle with a thick ring-edge) it feels reminiscent of Aldo van Eyck’s nearby constructs from the mid-century.

But pulling up the edge of the ring, rather than leaving it flat, allows the space around the circle to form grassy hills instead of flat plains.

And warping the ring so that it is taller in some areas and shorter in others allows for the creation of unique playspaces while preserving the ability of the edge to be used as an undulating walking/riding track (way more fun than a flat track).

There needs to be a way to reach the top of the taller portions of the ring of course, and this provides for a range of interesting play ideas.  Simply making stairs bigger forms a grandstand (sited to catch the afternoon sun) that allows for parents sitting, for performances, and extra fun for riders.

In another tall part of the circle a sheer edge becomes a space dedicated to smaller children, with a slide and climbing wall and caves.

The spots where the edge descends become a natural for scrambles to the top, and long low benches also enjoyed by bike riders and skateboarders.

All this play potential, and still plenty of space in the center court for ball play, for which NL’s design is also multipurpose; basketball goals attached to standard lightpoles, and somersault bars (another reference to our Aldo) that also function as football goals.

NL Architects say it’s three playgrounds in one, but I think it’s even more than three, and it’s one of the most brilliant playscapes I know.  All enabled by shaping the ground plane, so that it is Not Flat.


Posted in Contemporary Design

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]


Posted in Mid-Century Modern

Playscapes correspondent applicant Sarah Carrier sent this project to me amongst the things she is interested in corresponding about, and I just couldn’t wait to share it!

Stockholm-based VisionDivision was commissioned to build a concessions stand by the Indianapolis Museum of Art for the 100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park, a project that was realized in a beautiful and playful way–and almost entirely from a single tree. They called it Chop Stick.

Basing their design on “the universal notion that you need to sacrifice something in order to make something new. Every product is a compound of different pieces of nature…” they selected a 100-foot yellow poplar tree, the state tree of Indiana.  “Our goal was to make the best out of this specific poplar tree, from taking it down and through the whole process of transforming it into a useful building that is now part of one of the finest art parks in the United States. As the project proceeded, we continued to be surprised by all of the marvelous features that where revealed in refining a tree into a building; both in the level of craftsmanship and knowledge of woodworkers and arborists, and also of the tree itself.”

The first step was simply to suspend the tree as a great horizontal beam for the new structure.  Bark was removed and fashioned into shingles, and also into lanterns for illuminating the structure at night.  Pieces of wood were carefully extracted from the suspended tree and used for each of the design components:  the stand itself, the structural supports, pillars and studs, the swings, the chairs and the tables.  Pressed leaves and flowers were used to ornament the front glass of the kiosk, and yellow poplar syrup was even made from the bark, “thus meaning that you could
actually eat a part of the building.”

This project should remind us that making innovative play spaces requires a commitment far greater than a one-day installation of pre-fabricated components.  Listen to what VisionDivision says about the process, which sounds itself like a piece of performance art:

“The delicate balance act of the risk of weakening the hovering tree with taking cuts from it versus having to have a certain amount of wood to stabilize and construct the kiosk and carrying the load from the tree itself was very challenging.  Many days was spent with the structural engineer trying different types of cuts in a computer model to optimize the structure. To be able to fit all pieces that needed to be taken from the tree into the actual cuts we needed to make drawings for every single piece taken from the tree.

We also needed to optimize the kiosk both in size and in its constructions since it would take a lot of weight from the hovering trunk. The kiosk got a truss frame construction with two larger pieces of wood that are right under the tree. Using the schematics from our engineers force diagram program, we concluded that the wall closer to the end of the tree was taking more load, thus we sized up the two larger pieces of wood in that specific wall. All these alterations really just made the project more beautiful since the design became more refined in terms of more balanced proportions.”

Some might say that such attention is a waste of time and money, but if this was going up in my community I’d stop by every day to see the hovering tree and the careful extraction of its wood.  Imagine the community commitment to the space that could be developed through the performativity of the build.  Similarly, realizing  the Woods of Net by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam (the most popular ever post here at Playscapes and now receiving well-deserved and overdue worldwide acclaim)  required a devotion to the invisible structural engineering that make her pieces possible…architectural (Tezuka Architects) and engineering (TIS and Partners) collaborators are an integral part of that design’s success, which was three years in the making.

Chop Stick fortunately wasn’t quite so long to completion, but I do wish they had credited their structural engineers…I couldn’t find them listed at VisionDivision, which is the source of the photos and quotes in this post.


Posted in Natural Playgrounds

Sculptor Bridget Beck makes public artwork embedded with collaboration and narration–pieces that don’t just derive from playgrounds but actually are playgrounds. She created two large-scale pieces for the Franconia Sculpture Park in Franconia Minnesota, the first simply as a delightful ‘Playstation’ but the second as a ‘Poetry Studio’, a place for play and poetry together complete with a writing desk and a balcony for readings.

I’m incredibly inspired by her most recent work, “Locomotive”, which brings the same collaborative and playful art experience to elders of the community.  Working off her own love of locomotives, she discovered that many of the seniors at area nursing homes had strong memories of trains.  They decorated steel panels, which she incorporated into a traveling, wheel-chair accessible play-art piece.

The playground of the future will be multi-generational, rather than child-specific, and ideas like Bridget’s are helping shape it…well-done!

More about each of these projects in the video below from Minnesota Original...all photos are by Bridget, via Bridget Beck’s website.



Posted in Contemporary Design, Playable Sculpture

Given a generous 4 hectare footprint within a country park, London based FoRM Associates,  in collaboration with the artists Olivia Fink and Stephen Shiell, created a series of linked natural play experiences that appear like playful glades in the surrounding vegetation.   They’re nicely localized through both materials and allusions:  the ‘ant hills’ utilize excess excavation material and refer to a yellow ant species in the area.

The shapes of series of permanent play/climbing dens loosely reflect Fairlop Waters’ history as a boating lake, and they complement opportunities for self-built dens that exist on the site as well.  I like that a child could take inspiration for their own self-built den from the way the permanent structures are put together.

Brightly painted cuts on the felled wood are an interesting visual addition to the typical natural playground ‘stumpscape’, as are a series of tuned bells in towers whose sound carries between the play zones.  And it’s refreshing to see this playscape with only grass and dirt on the ground plane..no rubber safety surfacing in sight!

[all images via FoRM Associates.  I was pleased to see that this playground was featured in a Chinese Landscape Architecture magazine–pdf here–because play provision in China is generally quite poor.  As far as I know the playscapes blog (like all blogger blogs) is still blocked in China.]


Posted in Natural Playgrounds

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!