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
  • 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 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

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

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

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

With thoughts and prayers going out to my new, now drenched but apparently all safe, friends on the East Coast (just a week ago it was such a sunny day on the playground!),  I’d like to continue to talk about this issue of playground preservation.

My mail is running about half and half:  half of the respondents are completely unsentimental in this regard, preferring to focus on installation of new playgrounds rather than caring for old ones.  The other half believe that continually ripping out the old to put in the new is at best misguided and at worst a total waste, and are nostalgic for beloved playgrounds they knew that no longer exist.

Certainly not all playgrounds can or should be preserved.  But some should be.

Before removing a site, its significance (is it of genuine significance in some way to the history of its local site or community, or to the more general history of design or of play, or an important example of an architect or designers body of work?)  and uniqueness (Are there any more of these?  Am I replacing a unique play experience for my community with a standardized one?  Can we get a playground like this back?) should be considered.

And I want to add add to that list community attachment.

The bonds that tie a community to a physical site are tenuous, fragile, more easily broken than made.

They’re difficult to ascertain in focus groups, as any leader of a failed public space construction will tell you. (“We built what they asked for…why won’t they use it?”)

One of those ties that bind is the accretion of history in a place, and the erasure of that history, accumulated carefully and slowly over years, is one reason public spaces fail.  In playgrounds, the accumulation is the memory of fun; of great play experiences tied to that hill, that slide, that rope swing, that a grown-up remembers and brings their child to experience anew.

“I used to love going here as a kid so sad my daughter will never know how good it WAS!!!”

If a community is playing, and playing well, on a site–be it a city park or a self-construct in a vacant lot–then the creation of a new site in that place should respect the accretion of play memory that was already there.  Changes can, and often must, be made.  But the new space should be redolent of the old.

We had a ball there very sad It’s gone and our kids have missed out. They only get to play on the pathetic replacement that is nice to look at but not a patch on the original. It was fun for all ages.”

The quotes and pictures in this post are from a facebook site devoted to the gone-but-never-forgotten Grant Park Playground in Monash, South Australia. (thanks to Alec for the link!) Its amusement-style rides, built by one man, Grant Telfer (who must have been an amazing welder) simultaneously look like enormous fun and a liability-conscious town council’s worst nightmare. 

OMG .. this was just fantastic … drive hundreds of kms to have a day of FREE FUN .. Pity insurance killed it .. wonder how many made a claim when they got injured, doubt if anyone cared .. it was just so much fun :)”

What does it mean for those who make public space, and those who make playgrounds, that the Grant Park Playground– removed for the safety of the citizenry–still inspires such affection?   Does the playground that replaced it have its 300,000 visitors per year or inspire people to drive hundreds of kilometers to play? (note that many commentors on the fb page remember that it was great fun for adults as well as children and the video shows lots of grown-ups at play).

Playgrounds are finally, and justifiably, beginning to be judged and evaluated by the standards of other public spaces, because that’s what they are.  A playground that is not adopted by its community is a waste of time, money, and space.  There’s alot to learn from Grant Park, go ‘like’ them!

 

Posted in Mid-Century Modern, Play Heroes

As some of you know from my other, infrequent, blog about garden history, I am also a historian of landscape (having taken a sabbatical from nanotechnology to get a master’s degree in the subject from the UK.  I highly recommend interdisciplinary studies, btw!).   So I have a preservationist bent, and that is what this post is about, inspired by my visit last weekend to some ten  play areas of Central Park.

Central Park, of course, occupies a unique place in the history of the American landscape, but its place in the history of the playground landscape is just as unique.  Because the park is so big, there has been–is–space to try out all sorts of play constructs, and over the years it has assembled a set of play spaces that seem like a museum-worthy collection of urban play thoughts dating from Olmsted’s day until now, though some are only historic shadows of past use.

And that’s what I was thinking about as I was going around the playgrounds of Central Park: about preserving, learning from, such a long history of play.  An ongoing issue in garden history is that public understanding of the need to preserve landscapes lags far behind feelings about the preservation of buildings, and even farther behind the generally accepted idea that other forms of art–objects like paintings, say–are worth taking care of and hanging onto.

And since the notion that playgrounds are in fact designed landscapes–an idea I try to champion here as much as possible–is also pretty new,  it stands to reason that the preservation of worthy playground sites is really just coming into broader discussion (see Playscapes past coverage of the La Laguna playground and the Edgar Miller Animal Court).  Playgrounds typically are built, allowed to deteriorate for 10-30 years, and then rebuilt according to current fashion.   So what does it mean to ‘preserve’ a playground?  Is it even appropriate?

Central Park is a key space for this conversation, about which playgrounds should be preserved, and how, and by what means we adapt them to changing ideas about risk, safety, child development and social goals while keeping them great places for play.

I won’t have time or space in this post to go all the way back to Olmsted (!), though I’m hoping to do some scholarly writing in that vein.  The main focus of my day out in Central Park was the mid-century playgrounds by Richard Dattner and Paul Friedberg, which I’ve pored over in books.

In person, they’re brilliant, with play value as strong as their forms.  Like a lot of people who love design, I fall hard for how a space looks….but playgrounds are for play, and its possible for the most visually compelling of designs to fail miserably if the child is not kept first and foremost.   So I’m pleased to report that on the play-o-meter (which is my proprietary internal rubric for evaluating how kids are playing!) these were places with both great design appeal and great play appeal.

I can only capture a limited sampling of my thoughts without completely boring you, so I’ll focus on just three of the sites our happy little group of playground geeks visited; the three that scored the best on the play-o-meter.  The  first was Richard Dattner’s ‘Adventure Playground’ at  West 67th.  If you’ve downloaded the Dattner book Design for Play (see the sidebar), then you know this well:  short, curving concrete walls, ‘volcanoes’ with brick scramble walls, a stepped wooden ziggurat, a modernist water rill for wading.  In the 1990s the playground was saved from potential destruction but nevertheless elements of the design (the ziggurat, the climbing frames, the treehouse) were made significantly shorter, and tunnels were blocked, to address safety concerns.  I’d like to think that if it was being renovated now maybe the changes wouldn’t be so severe, because there’s a much more sensible conversation happening about risk/benefit on the playground than there was just five years ago.

These alterations are probably why this playground was pulling a much younger audience than the one for which it was originally intended.  But I was pleasantly surprised to find that for those younger children the best imaginative play–children quietly going about creating their own world–I saw all day was here at the ‘Adventure’ Playground.

The beauty of the shaded site certainly contributes, but it’s key to notice that these imaginative moments, of a child utterly lost in play, were occurring as the child engaged not with the large iconic active pieces, but with very subtle elements of Dattner’s design:  short tunnels, a lowered block that invites a child to clamber over a wall, a stepped boundary that becomes a climber, a round platform that becomes a stage.  Dattner wisely puts these ‘play moments’ out of the main flow of traffic, often protecting them within the short walls, which are perfect for a child to feel ‘hidden’ even though they are still visible to an adult.

And they were mostly happening in the sand.  Dattner’s original design was for the base of all of his playgrounds to be pretty much filled with sand, converting the entire surface into playable space.  There’s nothing like sand for play-per-unit-area.  Though it is the original playground material,  sand is increasingly disappearing from playgrounds because of (1) concern over contamination with animal feces, needles, etc.  and (2)  ADA issues…sand is not wheelchair friendly.  But it’s such a loss for play so I’m interested to hear from my readers how you are addressing these issues… do leave a comment with your thoughts on sand.

The monumental forms of another Richard Dattner design, the Ancient Playground, reference the Met’s Egyptian temples housed just behind the glass across the street.  I really felt the lack of the concrete finish techniques seen at other Dattner sites:  strong edges, exposed aggregate finish, and visible form marks (see the Adventure Playground photos).   Without them, the renovated site looks more ‘adobe’ than ‘ancient’.  That’s admittedly a playground geek thing, but it’s a serious issue for design preservationists in other fields.  So is it an appropriate question for the playground, too?   Playground preservation uniquely has to balance original design intent with ongoing playability.

Regardless, there was great play going on here…the Ancient Playground tied for the top in in “best active play”.   Dattner is great at the scramble.  Everywhere you looked there were kids pulling themselves up, and lowering themselves down, tilted surfaces.  The key here is TILTED.  It is important for a child to experience and test the limits of their balance, and the Ancient Playground provides plenty of slanted brick abutments for scrambling:  the rough ones you climb on, and the smooth ones you jump and slide on.   An underestimated loveliness of Dattner’s design is the restful area that grown-ups gather in under a grove of golden locusts–that favorite tree of mid-century modernists–that were glowing in the fall sun.  It is one of too few occurrences of planting inside the playground fence that I saw in NYC.  There were beautiful plantings…but generally on the other side of the fence, and this is an issue the Central Park Conservancy is addressing in their ongoing commitment to making great play spaces in the park.

The last playground I want to focus on (though I’ll do at least one other posting on Central Park with some additional thoughts) is the East 110th Street Playground, on the northern boundary of the park, by M. Paul Friedberg, whose Handcrafted Playgrounds book you can also download here. 

His 1979 Timberform playground surprised me by achieving the highest score for the day on the play-o-meter.  Now it’s an admittedly quirky index, but one that has been honed over years of play observation, and I do normalize for number of kids, differences in social context, etc.  The 110th Street playground had the widest range of ages actively engaged with the play space–it was the only playground that reached into the 11-12 year old range–and the play was very active.  It was also the only site where the players talked to me about their playground and how much they loved it.

So I spent quite a bit of time trying to absorb what made this playground space so successful (other than just the tire swings, which they all adored, and told me so).  But there were things they didn’t know to tell me but that I could see:  like how much they liked the feel of the massive timbers, or how far they could scramble along the horizontal beams between the uprights, or how even a small child could climb the timber ‘mountains’ because there are more-challenging and less-challenging routes up and down and there’s always a handhold nearby (so no need for an intrusive safety railing).
The East 110th Street playground is slated for destruction, to be replaced by a new playground design.

Do I wish this playground had some plantings, and some topography and a better connection to the wider landscape?  Sure.  But should this playground be preserved?  I tend to think so, and I’m interested in your thoughts.

I’m generalizing here, but preservation is basically about significance and uniqueness.  There are things that are significant but not unique and things that are unique but not significant, and things that are both.   The massive timbers of the East 110th Street playground do mark a significant design point in play history, and near as I can tell from my research it is one of few Timberform playgrounds left. Central Park has appropriately retained a classic Robert Moses era-type playground–metal jungle gym and all–in its open-air museum of play, and I’d like to think there is room for a Timberform playground too; room for children to experience a unique type of playground that will soon disappear completely from the urban landscape.

That is not to neglect material issues…wood of course has different preservation considerations than metal or plastic.  But they’re not insurmountable.

And this may win an award for my longest post ever on Playscapes!  From time to time I feel bad when well-meaning people advise me that any truly successful blogger posts multiple times a day.  But  I like to think we’re having a conversation here, and conversations don’t happen that fast.  So I’m going to leave this post sit for a few days, and I hope you’ll add your thoughts on playground preservation, and specifically on the East 110th Street Playground; I really want to hear them.

[image of adventure playground (then) via dwell and adventure playground (now) via the Central Park Conservancy]

 

Posted in Mid-Century Modern, Play Heroes

During London Open for Play, I photographed (again!)  the wooden blocks for construction play at the Kate Greenaway Nursery playscape.

They reminded me of the Alexander Kemp playground in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  It was given a complete redesign in 2009, converting a staid equipment-based playground to a playscape including “a dragon boat, water games, a group swing, gardens,  natural woods, covered areas, its own hill,  a fantasy area, and  sand everywhere”, according to the New Cambridge Observer.  But a mom from Cambridge who wrote to me said that actually the blocks were the most popular thing there.

And finally, this charming photo of  blocks used for construction at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown Massachusetts, c. 1940 (see the other lovely playground photos on their flickr account, too!).  I love the larger size of these blocks.

A reminder, if you needed one, that loose parts play is essential, but it needn’t be be expensive!

 

Posted in 1900-1950

That’s some fast slidin’….even for a “merry health giving exercise”!  Found at the Kansas Memory Project; the slide was produced in Kansas by the Parker Amusement Company for installation at the Golden Gate playground in San Francisco, California.

Posted in 1900-1950

I’ll post a full summary of the interesting conversations from London Open for Play soon (including tales of those hardy souls who braved a tour of Islington’s regenerated play spaces in the driving rain), but in the meantime it’s back to our regular programming!

In searching for more information on the intriguing satellite-inspired play structure by Zdeněk Němeček featured at the MoMA Century of the Child exhibition I found some fascinating references to a play design contest  “Děti ve městě“, organized in Czechoslavakia in  1960.  Was this the Eastern bloc’s answer to MoMA’s 1954 playground sculpture competition?

The results of the contest, full of space-race references and biomorphic forms taking advantage of new plastic materials, were published in the Czech magazine Tvar a Domov, and are reproduced at the blog expo58, from which all the images and captions in this post are sourced.

I’m particularly intrigued by the one playground that doesn’t fit in either the sputnik-y or  plastic-y modes, a design kit for a modular playground by Viktor Fixl.  It proposes a kit of loose parts well ahead of its time.

And were any of these designs ever realized for Czech playgrounds?  According to the author of expo58, the Nemecek sculpture was not only installed but was restored in 2009, and the sculpture by Olbram Zoubek and Eve Kmentová is intact at experimental housing complex Invalides in Prague.

If any readers have more information on these designs, or copies of the relevant source material, please get in touch!

[image 1: Viktor Fixl: Design kit for multipurpose playground, 1960

image 2: Zdenek Nemecek: functional sculpture Model for playground, 1960.

image 3: Jirí Novák: Functional sculpture for playground, 1960, a special prize in the competition “The kids in town.”

image 4: E. Rebmann: Laminate sculpture for playground, 1959-1960

image 5: Josef Soucek: Carousel, part functional sculptures for a children’s playground, 1960, a special prize in the competition “The kids in town.”

image 6: Unknown author: Plastic model playground, 1960

image 7: Unknown author: Plastic model playground, 1960

image 8: Unknown author: functional sculpture Model for playground, 1960

image 9: Unknown author: Plastic model playground, 1960

image 10: Olbram Zoubek and Eva Kmentová: Functional sculpture for playground, experimental housing Invalides, 1960]

The MoMA playground symposium is now sold out, but if you can’t be with us take a look at the tumblr for the Century of the Child exhibit.  An object from the exhibit is posted each day, including plans by our hero Aldo van Eyck for sandpits and playground climbers (above) and the Sputnik inspired play sculpture by Zdeněk Němeček, originally installed in Stromovka Park, in Prague in 1959 (below).

Posted in 1900-1950, Mid-Century Modern, Resources