Thanks to all of you New Yorkers who have sent suggestions for great playgrounds to see on my visit in conjunction with the MoMA playground symposium in October! One that I’ll definitely be stopping by is Richard Dattner’s Adventure Playground at the West 67th Street entrance of Central Park.   It serves as the central case study for Dattner’s 1969 book Design for Play, now available as the third playground classic through Playscapes Press.

From the original book jacket:
“Richard Dattner’s Design for Play was really designed to shake up the troops.  The troops in this case are those of us who are responsible  for the acceptance of play equipment and facilities designed with indestructibility and minimum maintenance as basic criteria…

The troops still need to be shaken up because the context of Dattner’s work was very similar to the context of playground design today:  city departments and community groups focused simply on increasing the number of playgrounds without engaging with the quality of the spaces they are installing.  New York City’s Park Commissioner Robert Moses increased the number of playgrounds in the city from 119 when he took office in 1934 to 777 when he retired in 1960.  Sounds great, huh?  But they were mainly steel play frames installed on asphalt deserts; generic and often of limited utility to the communities they were designed to serve.  Moses is more often remembered today for rejecting Isamu Noguchi’s innovative playground designs than for installing ‘traditional’ playgrounds that have long-since disappeared from the city.

Richard Dattner’s legacy, however, has remained:  from the renovated but still beloved West 67th Street playground, to modular construction toys and easy-install  ‘play cubes’ that prefigured current trends and even in the adoption of the term ‘playscape’ (he also coined the term ‘streetscape’).

And it is recalled–fondly–in a recent must-read article by James Trainor in Cabinet magazine, who remembers “what the kids in my Upper West Side neighborhood fondly nicknamed “the dangerous playground” just up the hill—the one that called out with its siren song of massive timbered ziggurats and stepped pyramids with wide undulating slides, the vertiginous fire-pole plunging though tiered treehouses, the Indiana Jones-style rope bridge, the zip line, the Brutalist-Aztec watercourses, and tunnel networks…these so-called adventure playgrounds were sprouting up everywhere, siphoning off, Pied-Piper-like, any kid with a scrap of derring-do suddenly bored to death with the old playgrounds, places that now had all the grim appeal of a municipal parking lot.”

But one of Dattner’s greatest achievements was to legitimize the involvement of architects in play.  The strength of his constructions helped make it appropriate and even cool for ‘serious’ designers to spend their time on spaces for children. And for one brief shining moment before the playground-industrial complex took over, “after generations of neglect, the public playground is suddenly in the midst of a renascence as designers, sculptors, painters and architects strive to create a new world of color, texture and form” [Jay Jacobs, 1967, as quoted in Trainor].

Playgrounds had long been the purview of activists.  But Richard Dattner made them safe for architects.

Purchase Design for Play digital download for $USD via Paypal

Posted in Mid-Century Modern, Play Heroes
Also in the spirit of encouraging you to make your own playscapes, I’m pleased to announce the second title in my effort to make vintage playground classics available again…Paul Friedberg’s Handcrafted Playgrounds from 1975.  Its best description is contained in the book’s own foreword:

“Handcrafted Playgrounds is a sketchbook of designs based on two very simple premises: anyone can build a playground, and the actual process of building it can be as important as the finished product. 

It gives the builders (who should certainly include the children for whom it is planned) a chance to shape their environment, to create something to answer their specific needs. 

All settings, urban, suburban, and rural, are rich in natural and man-made materials suitable for play.  Every child, wherever he or she lives and whatever space is available, can have an exciting playground. All it takes is a little imagination.”

Paul (see an online bio at the Cultural Landscape Foundation) is best known in playgrounds for his innovative 1970s installations in New York City, in which he utilized what were then completely new forms for play:   massive timber constructs, concrete forts that resembled ancient pyramids, and vest-pocket play spaces in trash-strewn vacant lots before temporary parklets were cool.    (See a 2007 article by Deborah Bishop in dwell magazine for photos of Friedberg’s 1970s work, from which the three photos below are taken.)  UPDATE:  Paul has let me know that the last two images are actually the work of Richard Dattner…apologies for the misidentification, but don’t worry,  Dattner’s own book Design for Play will be released on Playscapes soon!

Friedberg was one of first to realize the ideas embodied in the new word ‘playscape’ as discrete from ‘playground’:  a fully three-dimensional landscape space in which purpose-designed components worked together to provide an integrated play experience.

This book reflects that, offering build-it-yourself plans for everything from bridges to benches, spring toys to sprinklers, that can be put together to create a comprehensive play area.   Most are  made from timber, some from tires or other recycled materials like spools and water tanks.

Handcrafted Playgrounds is currently selling for over $100 on amazon, but now you can get a digital copy through playscapes for just $6!

Please remember that this book is still under copyright protection.  Once you’ve downloaded the file it is yours, just like a physical book is, to print or loan if you wish but not to copy and hand out.

I’ve purchased publication rights and must also pay royalties; your respect for the time and expense of the original copyright holder as well as my own is very much appreciated. (If you need to convert the pdf to other ebook formats like epub or mobi, try Calibre, which is a free download).

Purchase Handcrafted Playgrounds digital download for $6 USD via Paypal

 

Posted in Mid-Century Modern, Play DIY, Resources
lady allen hurtwood planning for play

A couple of Christmases ago, I posted a list of Vintage Playground Books as potential gifts for the playground-obsessed.  Since then, some of them have become quite expensive and difficult to obtain.  I like to think that’s because of you, dear readers, and your hunger for the innovation shown in these mid-century titles.

So for the last year I’ve been working on obtaining rights to some of the best (tracking down copyright holders from the 1960s is no easy task) so that they will once again be readily available! I’m really excited to launch this holiday season with a classic among classics, the if-I-could-take-only-one-playground-book-to-a-desert-island-I’d-take-this-one Planning for Play by Lady Allen of Hurtwood, first published in 1968.

The hardcover version of Planning for Play is currently unavailable on amazon, and the cheapest price for the softcover is $60.  But you can now get a digital file, pdf with double spread page views as shown above, for just $6 right here at Playscapes.  It shows the entire 140 pages of the original with its 176 photographs, illustrations and plans (click on the above images to see larger versions in which the text is legible).

I haven’t used any fiendish Digital Rights Management techniques; once you’ve downloaded the file it is yours, just like a physical book is, to print or loan if you wish but not to copy and hand out.   Please remember that this book is still under copyright protection, for which I’ve purchased publication rights and must also pay royalties; your respect for the time and expense of the original copyright holder as well as my own is very much appreciated. (If you need to convert the pdf to other ebook formats like epub or mobi, try Calibre, which is a free download).

As always, I make this launch with trepidation due to my limited tech skills.  If there are glitches please be patient, and do stay tuned for more Playscapes Press vintage playground classics available in early 2012!

Posted in Play History, Resources