And in other news of spools, this delightful construction by the Mmofra Foundation‘s Playtime in Africa project.  I love overlaps between play and literacy.

Watch for more from the Mmofra Foundation here soon, as they join our cast of worldwide correspondents.  But for now, go like their Facebook page!

And while you’re there, also check out the new Playscapes facebook page, ably edited by your correspondent Sarah Carrier of Boston, LArch from Harvard School of Design and playground afficionado.  She’s covering Playscapes on Pinterest, too. Go say hello!



Posted in Contemporary Design


First, meet Julie Klear, co-founder of Zid Zid kids and your Playscapes correspondent for the MENA region (Middle East North Africa)!  This is an area whose play provision I know very little about and I’m thrilled to have Julie posting from there.  You can see her first post here, and she’s also provided us with a wonderful set of DIY instructions for a slide made from recycled cable spools and road signs, based on one she and husband Moulay Essakalli created for the neighborhood children of the Bahraini Art Gallery, Al Riwaq located in Manama, Bahrain.

Before the build, ZidZid conducted a design workshop that included walking the children through their neighborhood to notice the elements of their suroundings, and collecting found materials to make landscape collages.    No wonder then, that a two-story climbing slide–made from discarded cable spools and road signs–was born, inspired by a vintage photograph.  The “Oasis Playscape” for Al Riwaq also included  a tree house, a recycled tire swing, large chalkboard walls for drawing, sand, climbing stumps made from recycled telephone poles, giant silicon pipes used as tunnels and a recycled tire climbing wall.

I’m thrilled to be able to bring you instructions for making the delightful road sign slide!  But it’s not just a slide; clever construction adds a tunnel in the slide’s base and cozy play spaces inside the spool.  You can download full details (with lots more pictures) from this link.

Julie and Moulay are interested in hearing from any other play designers in the MENA region…if you are one, leave a message in the comments!


Posted in Contemporary Design, 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 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

There is more than one way to build a den, and I love the tents constructed by Noa Meir and Tali Buchler, whose playful design work has been featured here at Playscapes before.

The idea behind this art installation was to bring back craft and the love of making to the local community. By gathering and knitting the tent, a community based on the love of handcraft was formed. 

Every Wednesday for 3 months kids, parents and grandparents got together at the local community center to finger knit ropes from left over lycra scraps brought from a local factory. The ropes were tied to 3 nesting rings made of watering pipes, forming circus-like shaped tents. The tents were hung from a large ficus tree located in a public garden in the center of town, adjacent to a synagogue called Jacob’s Tent (we found that out after installing the tent). We hung a total of 3 tents, all independent of one another but close enough that spinning one would start the movement of  another.

The hovering tents formed a space that encouraged passersby to stop, engage with the tents and play. A public garden that was hardly ever occupied now became a desirable place to be.”

A beautiful project, like a playhouse that swings!  Tali is going to provide some detailed instructions for us, so watch this space.

[photography by Nirit-Gur Karby]


Posted in Contemporary Design, Play DIY, Playable Sculpture

When work is done for developing communities in developing countries, the projects are often laudable in many ways but the word ‘refined’ rarely springs to mind.  That’s why I am continually impressed by the built environments created by TYIN tegnestue.

After consulting with the local community for over a year, it took them just three weeks to erect this playful two-story frame atop a deep concrete block platform in an empty slot of a dense residential area of Bankgkok. It provides the residents with basketball hoops, space for football, a stage for performances and public meetings, walls for climbing, swings, and seating both inside and on the edges.  “Bright lights, recycled wood panels and patterned orange metal frames create a scaffold-like intervention with graffiti and other dwellings as the backdrop.”  

The precise slatted construction is intentionally designed so that children can climb up and down the walls, reaching small platforms on the second level, a wonderful application of structural playability.   “The main construction´s simplicity, repetitive logic and durability enables the local inhabitants to make adaptations that fit with their changing needs without endangering the projects structural strength or the general useability of the playground.”

All photos from TYIN tegnestue,  project found at dezeen
Also see a previous post on TYIN tegnestue’s Soe Ker Tie House play elements here.


Posted in Contemporary Design

The ever-playful Basurama (whose Ghost Train Park in Lima has been previously featured on the blog) collaborated with Brazilian collective Contrafilé and other partners to create a park in which to both play AND think in a Sao Paulo favela.  The community, and especially its children, were deeply engaged in both planning and construction.

They used old tires to retain a refuse-ridden slope, as well as for stair-paths and climbing structures. There’s a gigantic blackboard and an electricity generating bike, as well as a radio station, a sound toy, and a community stage, plus a tight rope and is that a turning bar in the community space?  Aldo van Eyck would be SO proud.

I’m really glad to see that they didn’t neglect the designed landscape; in addition to garden beds and composting bins there are dedicated areas reserved for plantings of trees and grass, wise choices that far more expensive (and supposedly well-designed) playgrounds consistently ignore.  And a elevated community playpen for the bebes.  One small participant said ‘we’re making a garden out of garbage!’

Check out the blog that chronicles Parque para Brincar e Pensar…the community love and labor on display there is inspiring.

Thanks to friend of Playscapes Ángela León,who participated in the project, for submitting it.  I really like the idea of considering both playing and thinking…does your playground think?

Posted in Contemporary Design

In April 2011, nineteen students of the Gerrit Rietveld Academie/ designLAB designed and realised a playground on the terrain of the Anciens Abattoirs of Casablanca, Morocco…the playground came about in close collaboration with local craftsmen and construction workers. The remains of the playgrounds designed by Aldo van Eyck in Amsterdam served as a starting point. His statement that not the object but the child itself should move was revisited, resulting in five new playing elements. Shaded benches that welcome the parents to the site surround these elements. And a carefully composed master plan studies the way the playground fits within the grid formed by a cluster of heritage buildings. The applied materials and techniques, such as concrete, rope and nets from the fishing harbour, wooden scaffolding beams and metal are locally largely available. Krijn Christiaansen and Cathelijne Montens are public space designers and work as teachers at the designLAB department of the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam. They were responsible for the program, briefing, working method and coaching during this project.”

Aldo van Eyck was one of the few people (even today!) to understand the playground as a means not an end.   He would have approved of this playscape as a device to attract mothers and families living in a fragile area into a space where they can experience social services and exchanges.

Part of the brief for this playground included the ability to both repair and reproduce it locally.  Playgrounds that focus on local materials are sometimes lacking in other design qualities, but even with materials limitations the designLab students devised a playscape that is both aesthetically and spatially sophisticated, including a shaded sandbox/forest, a faceted dome, and swing buoys and fishing net towers that reflect local harbour materials.

See also a press release of the playground project (in French) and a time-lapse video of some of the playground’s construction sequence.

Images by Krijn Christiaansen, Cathelijne Montens, Sophie Krier, Alexander Spiliopoulos via sophie-krier.

Posted in Contemporary Design

TYIN Tegnestue is a non-profit composed of architectural students from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and recently notable for their small-scale projects in Thailand that address social needs and cultural context without sacrificing architectural quality; characterized by innovative uses of local materials.  Their Soe Ker Tie House project (Butterfly Houses, so named by the workers) for an orphanage on the Thai-Burmese border, was designed to “somehow recreate what these children would have experienced in a more normal situation. We wanted every child to have their own private space, a home to live in and a neighbourhood where they could interact and play.”

So the the six sleeping units they constructed contain some dedicated playspaces of swings (built for one or many, that’s important) and chess tables.  But my favorite aspect of the project is that it incorporates many small elements that are play opportunities without explicitly making a playground; the whole site is eminently playable.  Look for the bench between two trees, the stairsteps formed from tires, the changes in level, the intriguing windows…and do visit archdaily to see complete photos, including a beautiful library space and bathhouse they also built for the orphanage.  TYIN Tegnestue are currently engaged in new projects in Haiti and Sumatra; can’t wait to hear more.

Posted in Natural Playgrounds

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

Similar recycled materials are used by Go Play!, founded by Marcus Veerman, who are laudably taking an open-source approach to playground design. They plan to develop a graphics-based manual that anyone, any language or skill level, can download to build a playground based on locally available materials, incorporating local hands.

One of the things I admire about the work of Go Play! is that their playscapes are genuinely designed rather than merely installed.  They’re site-specific (incorporating available features like trees or changes in ground plane), and exhibit a great deal of creative thinking about providing a range of play experiences within a well-planned playscape.  And they’re constantly trying out new ideas.

Well done…I can’t wait to see that manual!  Go Play’s work is mostly in Thailand at present, but they have big plans.  See many more enchanting photos and get involved at their website.

Thanks to Kerala at KaBoom for the tip!

Posted in Resources

Thanks to reader Ángela León for telling me about this playground of recyclables constructed underneath the support columns for a train that never arrived.   It now has swings, climbers, and ziplines, mostly made from old tires, and all with a dizzying sense of height and danger (enhanced by the scale of the concrete columns)  that makes for a thrilling playground.    I especially love that there are LOTS of swings (most playgrounds don’t have enough) which are clearly being enjoyed by all ages!

Great work by Spanish firm Basurama, who are known for their work with the landscape of trash.

Posted in Contemporary Design

From the blog ‘aplaceimagined’, devoted to playhouses, comes news of the recycled watertank playhouses created by Katell Gélébart, artist in residence at the Dune ecoresort near Pondicherry, India.

“…mini Palaces for kids.. 3 huge tanks , opened with doors and windows and painted with “nature” camouflage to be invisible in the playground. “

Posted in Contemporary Design
In discussions about the niceties of playground design, I sometimes forget about the places where there isn’t any playscape at all. But I’ve been reminded by Tom McEnaney of International Orphanage Development Programme, who has installed 60 playgrounds for orphanages in Belarus. His playground components are manufactured by a company that used to make tanks for the Russian military (how’s that for swords into plowshares…tanks into swings!) so they’re virtually indestructible, and use struts instead of chains on the swings. Fortunately, they seem to still allow teeter-totters and merry-go-rounds in Belarus!
Posted in Contemporary Design

Project H Design is “a charitable organization supporting product design initiatives for humanity, habitats, health, and happiness”.

“Our concept in development is a “learning landscape” based on a grid of allows for both a playspace, outdoor classroom, and a flexible system for math games which can be adapted, scaled, and added to over time.
Four initial games have been designed to teach basic addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication: “Match Me,” “Math Musical Chairs,” “Which One Is Missing?,” and “Around The World.”
Installed at the Kutamba school for orphans in Uganda in January 2009, the playground even integrates a bench system for added functionality as outdoor seating or assembly space.
Amazing concept…bravo, bravo, bravo!
Donate to fund the construction of additional Learning Landscapes at the Project H website.
See many more photos at their flickr photostream.
Posted in Contemporary Design