Cynthia Gentry of the Atlanta Taskforce on Play sends word that the ATL playground, winner of the Playable10 competition, has been named #1 in the “50 Things Every Atlantan Must Do!” by Atlanta Magazine.  This is a great example of a playspace becoming part of a city’s identity.  I was pleased to be a judge for Playable10.

Archdaily has a great new article on Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam and her crocheted playgrounds.

The Child and Nature Network are again partnering with Clif in the Backyard Game Contest…enter by June 17th to win $15,000 for your favorite non-profit or a $10,000 scholarship.

Budding Playground designer Lisa Kramer is trying to raise $1755 via indiegogo to build a playground in Phumlani village, Cape Town, South Africa.  It’s a reminder to all of us that playgrounds shouldn’t cost so much!

The Center for Ecoliteracy has a new free download about making school gardens:   “Creating Gardens of Goodness,.  They also offer the perennially popular Getting Started: A Guide for Creating School Gardens as Outdoor Classrooms.   If you’re making a school garden, think about how you can add play to it as well!  Consider a swinging gate, a climbable edging, a sand pit, some stumps as sitting/jumping platforms…

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


  • The Child and Nature Network is looking for a new executive director... if you’re passionate about nature-based play, this might be a great fit for you!
  • The lovely folks at Thoughtbarn have been commissioned to do a larger version of their PlayHive for ThinkMakeDo at the Austin Children’s Museum!  The PlayHive plans Thoughtbarn provided for Aldo van Eyck’s birthday last year have been downloaded via Playscapes over 20,000 times, and that’s how the Children’s Museum found Thoughtbarn.  This year’s Aldo celebration is fast approaching (March 16)…if you’d like to submit a DIY plan as a firm, an organization, or an individual, do get in touch.
  • Modern Mechanix unearths more strange play equipment of the past…I’m all for a balance of risk and play but these seem unnecessarily edgy and maybe not even that fun.
  • Sarasota Springs, Utah, on the other hand, has stepped out and installed a 30-foot high play pyramid (take that, all you timid town councils).  Read their take on the liability issues involved: “It turns out the trick to avoiding liability lawsuits had as much to do with adequate signage as it did the available play equipment.” Well hooray for signage, then! (via Daddytypes)
  • While in Toronto I was pleased to make the acquaintance of Willy Chyr, whose fantastically playful balloon sculptures incorporate the generative randomness of natural processes, and use volunteers in their construction.
  • ArtofSpace in Springfield Missouri continues the trend for playful knitting with inside climbing nets knit of plastic.  Be sure to watch the video of their construction.
  • Designer Vanessa van Dam made a typeface based on the playground designs of our-hero-Aldo van Eyck.  I love this!
Posted in Uncategorized

And sometime while I was not-posting the counter quietly ticked across 2 million.  Thanks, and Happy Valentine’s Day to you, too!

I’ll be back on Monday with more great playgrounds.

Posted in Uncategorized

Tim Gill of Rethinking Childhood began with a heartening reminder of how much London playground provision has improved just over the last five to seven years at :32 to 4:02.  He also included some great quotes that every playscaper should know at and think about:

If you want to do something nice for a child, give them an environment where they can touch things as much as they want.”  Buckminster Fuller, 1972. 

“I am convinced that standardised playgrounds are dangerous, just in another way: When the distance between all the rungs in a climbing net or a ladder is exactly the same, the child has no need to concentrate on where he puts his feet. Standardisation is dangerous because play becomes simplified and the child does not have to worry about his movements.”  Helle Nebelong

“Children are a kind of indicator species.  If we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for all people.”  Enrique Penalosa, 2004

I was up next with “Hills are the new Swings”, playground trends as seen from my vantage point here at Playscapes, where I hear from a great range of people from parents to practitioners. Starting with science–phase diagrams as a broad thought construct–I talked about how the traditional definition of ‘playground’ is converging with the garden and the gallery, the street and the city, and how my readership indicates the growing appetite for play making outside of the usual Arch and LArch practitioners, who I scold just a little bit for not challenging their boundaries enough.  Three takeaway trends:  “feel risky, play safe”, “play local”, and “natural beyond nature”.  I won’t give any highlights because I find watching my own videos pretty unbearable, so you’re on your own.

The focus on play in London shows in the fact that a playground will be the first design to open up the North Park of the Olympics sites this year.  It was presented by Jennette Emery-Wallis of Land Use Consultants (best known for the Diana Memorial Playground in Hyde Park, which I have never visited in person because they don’t allow unaccompanied adults and I never seem to be able to borrow a child at the right time when I’m in London!) My non-practitioner readers will particularly the insight into how LArchs approach a site design.  A highlight is the discussion of the sand and water play planned for the space at 11:00 to 14:50.  I love how the water play is designed to express the history of the local river, and the careful attention to the textures of the site…the North Park playground is setting a very high bar for play spaces in London and I can’t wait to see it.

I was incredibly inspired by Liz Kessler’s presentation of the public realm improvement of EC1, an area of London with a high concentration of social housing (known in the UK as ‘estates’, what we call here in the US ‘projects’).  I learned from her the need to think far beyond the confines of the playground itself, to connect it to streets, to parking and lighting and particularly to path, about which we’ll be talking alot here at Playscapes this year.   Without improvements to these enabling elements, the best and most beautiful of playgrounds can fail to serve its community.   See particularly her explanation of how important play is to regeneration from 11:40 to 13:40 in the first video.  In the second video, a summary of how EC1 appeared before and after the scheme shows the power of the transformation and its impact on the residents:  0:00 to 3:00, then keep listening to hear Liz talk about the problem of misplaced fences from 3:00 to 6:25.  But really, you should listen to the whole thing.  I learned so much from this presentation.

London Open for Play 2012 was just a small beginning of what I hope will be a wide-ranging means of enabling local discussions around play provision.  Plans for an even bigger London Open for Play 2013 are already in the works, and do be in touch if you’d like to have an Open for Play event in your own city!


Posted in Uncategorized


And speaking of MoMA, I’ve been remiss in letting you know that all the talks from the Playground Symposium, “The Child in the City of Play” are available online.

It’s a long series to sit through, so here are my key moments if you’re pressed for time!

  • From Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek (Temple University Psych Department) I learned that studies on three types of learning-through-play:  free play (child initiated, child directed) guided play (adult initiated–think ‘designed’, child directed) and directed play (adult initiated, adult directed) show clearly that guided play is the most effective.  Translating that to the playground space, it highlights the importance of an adult providing an enlightened design that nevertheless allows the child maximum flexibility in choosing exactly how they play within that designed space.“If we don’t ever help children focus on the right elements within the landscape, then they’re not going to learn. That’s okay, they can be playing just to have fun…but if our goal is to try to have more learning, we need to rethink how we design our spaces so that kids can travel through well-designed spaces and get learning from them.”   “If we design our…spaces well, children WILL learn…everywhere can be a learning opportunity if it’s designed right.”See especially the study on the relationship of block play to spatial language from 24:18 to 27:55
  • I generally steer clear of toys on this blog, trying to stay focused on spaces rather than objects.  But  the “Playful Objects” presentation by Neil Stevenson of IDEO reminded me of the aspirational nature of children’s play.  Children like to ‘play up’, as it were, which is why Barbie, a toy intended originally for 13-year olds is now adopted between the age of 3 and 6 and abandoned by the age of 8 as ‘hopelessly childish’, an effect the toy companies even have an acronym for:  KAGOY means ‘kids getting older younger’.  And this is incredibly important for playgrounds as well;  KAGOY is why an 8 year old will refuse to touch a playground that looks like a tot-lot.  And why increasingly dumbing-down playgrounds due to an overemphasis on safety means that eventually only four-year olds will be playing on them.  The audience these playgrounds seek to serve will have taken their aspirational play elsewhere, mostly to video games.  See the sections on aspiration from 1:01:15 to 1:02:07 and 1:08:44 to 1:11:00, and the explicit relationship to playspaces at 1:17:15.“Given that unstoppable wave of KAGOY…it’s about finding ways to get kids in to playgrounds that we stop calling playgrounds…I’d be putting my money into playspaces that were cool enough for teens.  The kids don’t want to do anything that’s ‘young’…it’s giving them structures that…are also aspirational to them.” 
  • If you only have time for one talk, make it West8’s Adriaan Geuze at 1:23:16 to1:47:52. Adriaan has a typically northern European view:  that children should be welcome–and welcome to play–throughout the city, that play should be intergenerational, and that worries about the danger of play are ridiculously overrated.  The way he integrates play into the city space, without ever defining a ‘playground’ is so inspiring that I couldn’t really figure out a highlight, but don’t miss Adriaan demonstrating how he feels at being forced into an overly safe design for London’s Jubilee Gardens at 1:29:14!  Watch for more features on West8’s playful work here on the blog soon.

    Referring to their design for Madrid:  “Play areas are never distinguished [as to whether they are] for children, for ages, for adults.  Never.  Everything becomes a play object.”
  • Amy Freitag’s presentation was very New York-centric, appropriate for the venue, but her survey of public-private partnerships and particularly of Bette Midler’s New York Restoration project, which is a conservancy, startlingly enough, for neglected open spaces in low income neighborhoods, is instructive for anyone seeking to work in high-need communities.   Her willingness to highlight a space that didn’t work–the installation of a beautiful but culturally obtuse garden/playscape that included a Tudor playhouse (in East Harlem!) should make any playscape maker stop and think about the need for local context.  See the story at 35:48 to 37:54 in the second set of videos.  The NYRP learned, and moved on to overhaul spaces with a much lighter touch and increased attention to existing community patterns, reaping unexpected benefits from intergenerational spaces:“Play has a much broader definition and for the older set that play is dominoes…the elder players help establish a sense of safety in the space, as a result gardeners, children, everyone feels safe to occupy and use the space. It really reminds you of those playworkers of the Robert Moses era.”I love the idea of the elders as the gatekeepers and protectors of play!

P.S. to my long-suffering correspondent applicants; I am STILL working on getting in touch with all of you!  If you’re in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand or South America you should have heard from me by now.  Europe, Canada and the U.S. are still in process.


Posted in Resources

I’m looking forward to meeting  readers at the Child in the City of Play symposium at MoMA this Friday.  Just to clear up some confusion, I am not speaking, but images from the blog are serving as a visual backdrop for the day and I’ll be there for the duration, so do say hello!

If you don’t have a ticket, you can

  • follow the live stream of the event:,
  • chance the stand-by line beginning at 12pm in the lobby at 4 W. 54 St.
  • join me and Sharon Unis of Pop-Up Adventure Play Saturday morning 10 am at Le Pain Quotidien right inside Central Park near 69th and CPW for an impromptu walk around the playgrounds (with wider excursions to follow based on the weather and everyone’s inclination…).

See you soon!

[the above image, of designer Saul Bass’ proposed but never built playground, is included in the catalogue for the MoMA show, as well as my slideshow of Mid-century modern playgrounds for dwell magazine,  but it was originally unearthed and posted online by Sandi Vincent at the great blog aqua-velvet.  Fascinating, isn’t it, that he was interested in playgrounds…  Model Playscape 1961, as published in Graphis 97]


Posted in Uncategorized

If you’re in the Philadelphia area, don’t miss the chance to join my friend Alex Gilliam of Public Workshop TOMORROW, Saturday October 13, from 10 to 2 to build a pop-up adventure playground in a vacant lot.

It already has a mountain, and yes, a volcano.

The project is part of Tiny WPA, a program initiated by Public Workshop that “places young adults at the forefront of stimulating community engagement and civic innovation in Philadelphia by empowering them to design and build improvements to the City’s public spaces, schools, and micro infrastructure”.

Don’t fail to stop by this weekend for “tinkering, collaboration, and adventure, and conversations about the state of play in Philadelphia and the essential role young adults can play in the design of a city.”

You too can learn to use sharp, spinning power tools…don’t miss it!


Posted in Contemporary Design, Play DIY

Thanks to all those of you who came to the first ever “Open for Play” event in London Wednesday evening!  I forgot to take any photos, but we had a packed room full of professional play makers, workers and a healthy dose of those who, like myself, fall in the category of “enlightened amateur”.  It was a joy to meet many of you; do keep in touch.  The evening was recorded, so the talks will be online soon.

I also thought you might be interested in the results of the feedback we collected at the meeting.

We asked attendees to rate the current state of play design:  it averaged just over 6 on a 1 to 10 scale.  So a general recognition, across all the types of attendees, that there is room for improvement.

We also asked each attendee what, in their view, was the single area of play provision that most needed improvement.  Answers varied, but all were fascinating.  Here are a few:

“Public knowledge and consciousness about the benefits of play”
“Interlinked thinking about better spaces for children and parents…adventure”
“Play in the public realm – streets, homezones, etc.”
“Tolerance by all, toward all”
“I think we are in danger of becoming obsessed with natural play at the cost of other types…need more localisation!”
“School playgrounds”
“Freedom to play – move from generic equipment”
“Procurement process”
“Permeability,  multi-functionality, multi-generational appeal/ownership”
“Inclusivity for grown-ups, more gardening”
“Accepting risk’
“Science of childhood development influencing play provision and playground design”
“Developer/client expectations”
“Empowering makers”
“More fun, more dangerous”
“Adult attitudes to children”
“More risk-taking commissions”
“Original design that fits urban environments”

The strongest themes in the feedback were concerns over school–rather than public–playgrounds, a desire for greater originality and adventure, and multi-generational appeal.

Also I’m pleased to say that there was overwhelming demand to have more events of this type!  So watch this space.

In the meantime, don’t forget that you can continue the conversation by joining the playground tours on Saturday and Sunday…no need to book in advance, just show up.  Full details at the OpenforPlay website.

And if you’re interested in having a play design event in your own community, get in touch!

Posted in Uncategorized

I’ll be stopping by the Gary Webb artful playfulness when I visit London next week to be part of Open for Play,  organized along with play expert Tim Gill to bring a focus on play to design events like Open House London.   I’d love to meet any of you readers and talk playgrounds at the Wednesday evening symposium (please RSVP to Tim), or the Saturday and Sunday playground tours (just show up).

Wednesday night we’re at 75 Cowcross Street, London EC1M 6EL, from 6:30 – 9 pm (6 pm doors open).  Come for a free of charge event (with nibbles, thanks to Alan Baxter and Land Use Consultants!) and plenty of time for Q&A and networking.

Tim will introduce the topic of making the urban public realm playable for children, I’ll follow with current playground trends and themes, Jenette Emery-Wallis of Land Use Consultants will talk about the North Hub playground planned for the Olympic Park, and Liz Kessler will cover child-friendly approaches in the public realm from her work as Public Space Coordinator, EC1 New Deal for Communities.

Do join us then, or on Saturday for visits to the anarchic Glamis Adventure playground (photo above) and the serene Kate Greenaway play garden (photo below) and Sunday for Waterlow Park and EC1 playground walks.

There are maps and tips on how to get to each site at Open House London:

Glamis AP:
Kate Greenaway:
and the seminar:

Full details at the Open for Play site…hope to see you there!  And as always, if you’re interested in bringing a focus on play to design events in your own community, get in touch.

Posted in Uncategorized

Dear readers,

I’m pleased to let you know that Playscapes will be participating in “The Child in the City of Play”, a half-day symposium exploring the impact of play in urban environments on childhood development, in conjunction with MoMA’s exhibition Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900–2000.  

The Playscapes image feed–nearly five years and 500 posts highlighting great spaces for play–will be serving as an inspirational backdrop for the day!  This is a great credit  to those of you who are designing and making innovative playgrounds that I can feature, sending me links to new playscapes you’ve found, and carrying the weight of the local design conversation, in your own communities, to make better spaces for play.  This is your success. Thanks for making Playscapes the most widely read play design site on the web, and enabling this MoMA moment!

I’ll be at the symposium and would love to meet you and talk playgrounds:

Friday, October 19, 2012, 1:00 – 5:00 p.m. 
Theater 3 (The Celeste Bartos Theater), mezzanine,
The Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building

The event is ticketed, with limited seating, so do buy your ticket early.

Okay, now a confession: even though I am pretty well-traveled, my time in New York City consists of frustrating transits between JFK and LaGuardia and short hotel stays between connecting flights on to somewhere else.  I’ve never spent any significant time in your fair city, and I’m really looking forward to it.  Suggestions and playground tours welcome! Leave a comment or email me directly.

See you on the playground,

P.S. If you’re in the area, don’t miss my friends from Pop-Up Adventure Play, who will be at MoMA TOMORROW Friday, August 10, at 11 am.


Posted in Uncategorized

I’ll be back in London in September to participate in the inaugural event of Open for Play, a project of Alex Gilliam of publicworkshopTim Gill of rethinkingchildhood and myself to bring a focus on play design to existing festivals of art, architecture and design around the world.

We’re starting with Open House London, and I’d love to see you at any of the events:  a Wednesday evening discussion about play design with me, Tim, Olympic Park playground designer Jennette Emery-Wallis, and  public space coordinator Liz Kessler, or three four weekend playground walks and tours of innovative London playscapes.

Full information is at the Open for Play website, do RSVP for the discussion event so that we can give a count to our hosts, Land Use Consultants.  For the walks and tours, just show up!

Hope to see you there…and if you’re interested in bringing a focus on play to a design event in your community, just get in touch!


Posted in Uncategorized

…Tom Bedard of St. Paul Minnesota! spit out ‘2’ as the winning number from among the 47 comments, so in this case the early bird gets the discs.  Tom, get in touch via email please!

Thanks to everyone for your kind words; they keep me going!  One of the most exciting thing about the comments this year is that so many of you aren’t just reading the blog, you’re actually making your own playscapes–both as individuals and as communities–which is just so great.  I’ll do my best to keep providing you with all the inspiration I can!


Posted in Uncategorized

Generally I have some sort of giveaway around the blog’s birthday…I’m slow in getting it all together this year (lots of traveling this month) but here it is at last!

Alex Gilliam of Public Workshop creates uniquely engaging opportunities for youth and their communities to shape the design of their cities, in eminently playful ways.  With the support of the National Building Museum, Domaform and Cynthia Field, he developed the Build-It! discs to “challenge possibility on playgrounds, vacant lots, in classrooms and your very own backyard.

Build-It! Discs are fabricated in the United States from double-walled cardboard for extra durability and strength, allowing you to build your very best awe-inspiring structures over and over again. They are made from recycled paper and are 100% recyclable!”

They’re amazing just for fun, of course, but Public Workshop also uses them to focus on placemaking:  exploring, for example, how an underutilized public space might be re-envisioned, and using the highly visible nature of a build-it structure to raise public awareness.  They’re great for self-building a temporary playscape, or imagining a new permanent playground.

If you are the lucky winner of this giveaway, you’ll receive THREE SETS (60 total) of Build-It! Discs, shipping included.   Even to international locations, though they may take a while to arrive.  If you don’t win, you can still order your own–they’re $35 (plus shipping) for a set of 20, 12 inch diameter discs–by emailing Alex directly.

TO ENTER, just leave a comment!   You can say something nice about playscapes (the blog is powered by good wishes), or make a suggestion for something you’d like to see here or in the playground world in general, or tell me about your favorite playscape ever.


Hope you win!

Posted in Uncategorized

I  was really excited to hear from the City of Denver’s Park and Recreation Department last week with news of their ambitious RFP to re-imagine play at City Park:

“Denver Parks and Recreation (DPR) is challenging currently accepted definitions of play and is looking to re-think play as a unique, multi-faceted experience in an urban, multi-generational space in Denver’s Historic City Park.  Highly motivated, qualified and experienced design teams are asked to submit their qualifications and ideas for this challenge. The new space will be unique and will include community context and advocacy.”

And they’re committed to a $3-5 million dollar project.  Playground-makers often get in touch with me and say things like “we’d be more imaginative if cities would let us”….here’s your chance.   Hooray Denver for being play visionaries…I can’t wait to see the results!

Much more info on their reimagine play website:  the project launches tomorrow, March 7, with a Public Open House 5:30 to 7:30pm at the Museum of Nature & Science, City Park.

P.S.  If your city has an RFP for an out of the ordinary play space, I’d love to promote it.  Get in touch.


Posted in Contemporary Design, Playable Sculpture