Friday, May 30, 2008

More Environment Design Institute Work

One of the most interesting collection of children's work I've come across in a while is from the same Environment Design Institute (they of the big play net below), whose founder Mitsuru Senda has been active in the design of children's play spaces since 1972.

There are a few more photos at, which is in Japanese.

I do wish there were better photos of these installations, if any of my Japanese readers have some, please pass them on!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Big Net, Yuyu-no-mori Nursery School, Environment Design Institute, 2007

"This big net play feature is provided in the centre of the building and connects the second and third floors. Children enjoy sliding, climbing, jumping and lying down on the net with slope and that helps children’s development such as physicality and sociability. The net has become the school’s symbol."

Winner of a 2007 DesignShare award.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Back to the Playground

Highlights from a 2007 article in the Boston Globe:

"There's a real international playground movement taking hold around the world, and it's really very exciting," says David Elkind, a professor of child development at Tufts University and author of the recently published book "The Power of Play."

(which I have not read, but intend to)

"...this reexamination of playgrounds is triggered by the conviction that, in the United States in particular, playgrounds have become rather unfun -- designed with only safety in mind, they've lost the capacity to excite or challenge children."

"...according to Susan Solomon, an architectural historian and author of a history of American playgrounds...fear of personal injury lawsuits has shrunk the playground. Slides and swings today are lower, and therefore slower, than before. Raised platforms are girded by railings, and monkey bars are practically nonexistent. "The see-saw today," points out Solomon, "is pretty much a horizontal bar that hardly moves in either direction. It just kind of jiggles a little bit." School playgrounds in Broward County, in south Florida, now post "No Running" signs."

... in several European countries it's possible to get an advanced degree in playwork, and the far less litigious European legal climate gives playground designers far more leeway."

"...according to David Rockwell (designer of the Imagination Playground), a playground with similar basic components could be built for far less. "All you need is a landscape that has sand and water with the ability to mix the two, and loose parts -- many of which are things we found -- for kids to play with," he says. "It doesn't get much more basic than that."

"We've been overwhelmed with requests from people who are interested in seeing how these ideas would apply to their school or their neighborhood or their community," Rockwell says."

"Children need vertiginous experiences," says Mary Rivkin, a professor of education at the University of Maryland. "They need fast and slow and that high feeling you get when you run down a hill. They need to have tippy things."

"one problem with trying to child-proof playgrounds is that children, trying to make the safer playground equipment interesting, come up with unforeseen and often more dangerous ways of using it."

Hmmm...making the playground safer can actually make it un-safe. Interesting.

Friday, May 23, 2008

La Laguna Park, San Gabriel California, 1965, Benjamin Dominguez

Benjamin Dominguez emigrated to the US at the age of 62 from Mexico, where he had notably fashioned the lion and tiger enclosures at the Mexico City Zoo. Over the next ten years, he would create uniquely imaginative children's playsculptures in in Texas, Nevada and California.

His 'Atlantis' park in Garden Grove, California has been well-preserved and internet postings attest that it is still a favorite.

Not so in Las Vegas, where in the late sixties the Women’s Service League funded a playground of "whales, friendly dragons, mammoth mushrooms and gargantuan turtles. Unfortunately, just a few years ago, the city destroyed these works to make way for a new building development. Benjamin’s sons salvaged only one piece before bulldozers plowed the works under in the middle of the night. "

BOOOO, Las Vegas.

La Laguna was Dominguez' last work, at age 70. It was also threatened with demolition in 2006, but was saved by a grass-roots advocacy effort, Friends of La Laguna, who rallied to save the playground known locally as 'monster park'. The organization is now seeking to raise money for renovation and accessibility.

Donate at their website, (the source of these photos) which has much more information about Mr. Dominguez and his remarkable playground creations.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Moonscape Benches, Jesus Moroles, 2007

...and complement it with these rocking 'moonscape benches', of Texas granite by artist Jesus Moroles. They'd never wear out.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Wooden Play Sculptures, Andrew Frost

The "chainsaw art' I'm acquainted with seems to consist of rustic carvings of bears or eagles from the stumps of fallen trees; rough and hard-edged.
The play sculptures of Andrew Frost of Derbyshire are far more finished, and imaginative. Above: "Wood Ant", "Alice in Wonderland Table", and "Dragon Boat".

The 'Canoe' idea (bottom photo) could perhaps be adapted by someone with less skill in woodcarving than Mr. Frost, and though I generally prefer the abstract to the literal in playground designs, I do like the realism of the hedgehog and hibernating toad as toddler seats/climbers. They're a lovely way to incorporate learning about indigenous wildlife into the playground experience. I would make sure to have a signboard somewhere so the parents and children could read more about the animals.

P.S. Coming as I do from the American Great Plains, it is always somewhat jarring for me to see American Indian idioms interpreted on, say, the hills of Derby. But still nice, and interesting that they form a part of children's imagination even so far away.

Fallen Acorns, Andrew Frost, 2005

Acorns for climbing and sitting, made from a fallen tree.

Playthings on the Playground or, What I Learned from Brueghel

All this Brueghel has solidified some thoughts that have been percolating for some time. Notable by its absence in the painting is anything resembling playground 'equipment', unless you count the railing the boys are riding like a horse.

When did we decide that a child's play was all about equipment? That play happened 'on' something, instead of 'with' something, or even 'with' nothing at all but imagination?

It's also apparent that these kids are playing 'with' each other more than I've ever seen on a modern playground. There, children are mostly playing

The joy in the painting comes from the interaction of the children with each other and their delight in quite simple, moveable toys like hoops and tops, balls and sticks. They're playing dress-up and stacking bricks, and joining in actual games whose rules and structure help a child learn about interacting with others within a framework.

I think playground equipment is great. I think it can even be wonderful; for play and for children. But I think we've relied on it too much.

Easy to add to any playground: jumpropes, hula hoops, balls, nerf 'sticks' (if you're really so worried about the real ones); buckets (not so large that they collect rainwater and form a hazard), shovels (not those silly sand ones; a good durable garden trowel is much better) and moveable, stackable blocks. Also bright orange traffic cones, which in my experience the kids absolutely love. So they may disappear. With all the concern over childhood obesity, do we really mind if a kid takes a jumprope home?

I'll be adding some moveable playthings to my church playground (which is where this all started) this summer.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Brueghel Redux, 2007

A class of Belgian schoolchildren re-creates the Brueghel painting in their schoolyard.

What a great playground activity!

Apparently, there is a group in the former Flemish countries of Northern Europe devoted to perpetuating the games depicted in the painting, but I couldn't find any further information on it.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Details from Brueghel's Children's Games, 1560

The painting depicts over 250 children involved in an estimated 80 games.

No playground equipment necessary...I could look at these for hours.

See the original at the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Vienna.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Breughel and Williams and playgrounds

The paintings of Pieter Brueghel the Elder (Flemish, 1525-1569) were used as inspiration for a series of poems by by William Carlos Williams (American, 1883-1963), published in 1962, for which he was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

This is "Children's Games"

This is a schoolyard
with children

of all ages near a village
on a small stream
meandering by

where some boys
are swimming

or climbing a tree in leaf
is motion

elder women are looking
after the small

a play wedding a
nearby one leans

an empty hogshead

Little girls
whirling their skirts about
until they stand out flat

tops pinwheels
to run in the wind with
or a toy in 3 tiers to spin

with a piece
of twine to make it go
blindman's-buff follow the

leader stilts
high and low tipcat jacks
bowls hanging by the knees

standing on your head
run the gauntlet
a dozen on their backs

feet together kicking
through which a boy must pass
roll the hoop or a

made of bricks
some mason has abandoned

The desperate toys
of children

imagination equilibrium
and rocks
which are to be

and games to drag

the other down
to make use of

a swinging
with which

at random
to bash in the
heads about

Brueghel saw it all
and with his grim

humor faithfully

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Cedar Hills Arch

Timber arch playstructure at Cedar Hills Co-Op in Portland, Oregon, unattributed. Let me know if you have further info.

Timber work by Cookson and McNally

of London. The playtower apparently has a turf roof; wish we could see it. The first photo is the 'armadillo' shelter (though I'm pretty sure they don't have armadillos in London...)

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Playground Octupi of Japan

Apparently, Japan is populated by giant cephalapods generously lending their tentacles as playground slides.

Interesting demonstration of how culture influences form even on the playground; you wouldn't expect to find these in the West and they might even scare some children!

Mostly constructed by a single company, Maeda Environmental Art Co, Ltd, whose page, unfortunately, I can't read.

These images via

Many, many more photos at
and (click on the pink characters)