Saturday, January 31, 2009

Starslide, Liliane Lijn, 2005

Visual artist Liliane Lijn used her signature conical shape, which she calls a koan, for a slide installation at the Evelina Children's Hospital in London.

"The difficulty in making a work of art that is at the same time a functional children's slide, is in creating both without compromising either. My concept of sculpture is that no part of it should be unnecessary. I wanted to design a slide that both in concept and form would be an integral part of the sculpture."

Lijn has a wide-ranging and innovative body of work, including her fascinating collaborations with astronomers as part of a residency at the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. Take some time to peruse her website.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Richter Spielgerate, Water Play

the drinking crocodile

mud table

Archimedes screw, bucket wheels, and the child is sitting atop a movable sluice gate

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Richter Spielgerate, Climbers

that last one has a bell to ring when you reach the top...these assemblies seem to allow for higher climbing than is usual in the US. Perhaps they're not quite so worried about lawsuits in Germany?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Richter Spielgerate, Construction Components

The playground components of Richter Spielgerate, GmbH, are so exemplary that they will be the subject of a series of posts...RS is located in Frasdorf, a small town between Munich and Salzburg, close to the Alps in Bavaria, Germany. They are responsible for some very well known sites such as the Princess Diana Memorial playground in London and the Hall of Science in New York City.

From their mission statement: 'We would like every child to feel well by having fun and joy when playing. We help to create a harmonious atmosphere in playgrounds which is indispensable for relaxed playing.'

This is one company whose catalogue I can actually recommend! They also, of course, do custom work. From top to bottom, a conveyer, an excavator (much heavier duty than other playground excavators I've seen), and large and small building sites.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Advice on Parks from Holger Blom, Stockholm

Egon Möller-Nielsen's playground sculptures were the result of a cooperative relationship with Holger Blom, Stockholm’s “City Gardener” (head of the Stockholm Parks Department) from 1938 to 1971. An architect by training, Blom's "tenure coincided with a brilliant period in Swedish landscape architecture. Stockholm became internationally known for its parks and the activities went by the name of 'the Stockholm school'. The regional landscape set the tone of things and was recreated, resulting in a more relaxed style of park design.

Blom formulated his visions in a parks programme:

  • Parks open up the city. The park must be an active component of urban development, forming networks through the city, and not just an isolated green oasis.

  • The park makes room for outdoor recreation. The park must be a place for movement and exercise, for both young and old. The staffed play park developed during this period.

  • The park is a meeting point. The park must be a public space for festivals, concerts and religious and political manifestation. During this period the City of Stockholm established “the Park Theatre”, which still gives summertime performances in Stockholm parks.

  • The park preserves nature and nurture. Holger Blom collaborated with many artists, with the result that sculpture became a recurrent feature of Stockholm parks. Particularly deserving of mention is his partnership with Egon Möller-Nielsen, who created several play sculptures for children, such as Tuffsen in Humlegården and The Egg in the Tessin Park. "

text and image from the Arkitekturmuseet of Sweden

Ägget, Egon Möller-Nielsen, 1951

Another playable sculpture by Egon Möller-Nielsen, who worked with Alvar Aalto, is the 'egg', at Tessin park in Stockholm. [source]

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Tuffsen, Egon Möller-Nielsen, 1949

Much as I appreciate natural playgrounds, though, I wouldn't want to miss out on things like a swing that lights or the vintage stylings of Benjamin Dominguez or the three-dimensional design immersion provided by playgrounds like the Stoss SafeZone or the Jardin d'email.

Or the ability to climb around on a work of modern art, like this 1949 installation by Egon Möller-Nielsen in Reimer Holm Park, Stockholm [source]. Though artistic comissions are out of the reach of most playgrounds, these are unique experiences for children as well, and where available should be celebrated. Perhaps it will encourage more artists to make playground pieces. Hmmm...whether to make something to stand in a sterile museum, or to live under cheerful trees and children's feet....

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A plea for the track

And while I'm indulging in advocacy may I make a plea for the track?

Children love to race round and round in circles, and parents love that they get all tuckered out in doing so. Many smaller playgrounds have some kind of edging to keep the sea of woodchips contained that forms an irregular spheroid around the equipment. A wide path added at ground level all the way around this perimeter, which is already in place, adds a whole new dimension to the active play possible at the site, and keeps high-energy 'runners' out of the flow of movement around the equipment. If a poured-surface can be afforded, so much the better as it works for trikes and bikes as well. Let the races begin!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Natural Playground ELEMENTS - a bit of advocacy

I'm still thinking about the whole natural playground concept.

Though there will always be forward-thinkers out there, realistically, I think it's unreasonable to expect that the well-meaning people responsible for public playgrounds will suddenly switch to a completely different model than the one they've been working with. And liability issues will make them even more wary of new solutions. Even if they were to decide to make a change, what about all the existing playgrounds? I don't think even the most devoted natural playground advocates would suggest that they be discarded on a grand scale.

A simpler point of advocacy may be to focus on the inclusion/addition of natural ELEMENTS. A few logs and boulders, for example, can easily be added to the sea of woodchips that already surrounds most commercial play structures.

If they get a noticeable amount of playtime, well, any reasonable person could then add a sandpit edged with natural rocks. Or an earthen hill beside the sea of woodchips. Or a stump spiral.

The inclusion of natural elements is something for which parents could more easily advocate, or a group of parents even build, especially as an adjunct to an existing traditional playground. And perhaps by small steps they would lead to a better understanding and wider acceptance of a new type of playscape.

I'd especially like to see the big playground charities like Kaboom and Boundless Playgrounds, who support admirable but largely artificial work, facilitate the inclusion of natural elements.

[photos from the previously recommended flickrstream of Tim Gill]

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Natural Playgrounds - the summary

First, I have discovered that I don’t like posting in themes. So after this brief focus on the natural playground, examples will continue to be listed at random with all other examples of inspirational play spaces. I'm missing the playground art.

Second, the term ‘natural playground’, like ‘organic food’ can be difficult to pin down. Are all constructed elements eschewed in favor of a simple ground-plane of rocks, wood pieces, and earth? What about, say, a plastic slide or a metal swing? Is a play structure allowed as long as it is made mostly of wood? There are varying degrees of naturalism among the purveyors and advocates of natural playgrounds. It is probably better to think about natural ‘elements’; natural playgrounds can be said to have significantly more natural elements than the typical model.

In general, natural playground spaces tend to be custom solutions that emphasize raw materials of wood, stone, and sand in combination with shaped earth forms. They often include elements of water play, and have more emphasis on planted material than a typical playground. They may feature elements for learning about the natural world, like bat houses or bug habitats, and the boundary between ‘playground’ and ‘garden’ or ‘nature trail’ is blurred. It should be noted that some landscape architects have always worked in these elements, without designating themselves specifically as ‘natural playground’ providers.

Third, ‘natural’ is no substitute for ‘well-designed’. In assembling the examples I’ve posted I must admit that I was rather disappointed as to the overall quality of the designs I was able to find; there were many I passed over as not having enough interest or displaying enough skill for a place on the blog. While an undisturbed forest of logs and rocks may be an ideal, and a place to which we wish all children had access, the reality is that playgrounds are inherently designed spaces, and this blog advocates that they be well-composed and thoughtfully executed ones. Just using logs and rocks doesn’t automatically make that happen.

But even a simple arrangement of rocks and logs and earthworks has a high play value and can be vastly less expensive than the pipe-rail and plastic structures too common in the municipal landscape. I would very much like to see us get away from the idea that a playground has to cost alot of money.

Most playground structures get picked because they’re easy for the grown-ups. They come in a box (or on a big flat bed trailer) with all the pieces and detailed instructions and exact safety standards. Just thinking out loud here, but what if someone came up with a natural playground 'kit'--with everything but the sand, rocks, and logs--including precise installation instructions, and appropriate safety considerations, and supplied it as an alternative? Or maybe we should just try to post DIY details on this blog. I'm open to your ideas.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Weeping Mulberry for the Playground

Living willow may be the rage, but when I was little the McDonald's playgrounds in my area all had a weeping mulberry, trimmed rather like a hamburger but still with plenty of room for hiding in the mushroomy shape underneath. It was my favorite, next to the Hamburglar climbing tower.

I think McD's should go back to their outdoor playgrounds, with weeping mulberries.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Living Willow Structures for Playgrounds

Woven willow is often a part of the natural playground; get basic information (how-to's at the end) from this article by Sharon Danks, and at the American Willow Growers Network.

The magical example above is from the Santa Barbara Arboretum, via the new blog vulgare.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The ultimate natural playground feature

If you're very, very lucky, you'll have a natural rock slide, like this one in Bristol England, now polished smooth by generations of children. Source is the flickr photostream of children's play advocate Tim Gill, which is an excellent source for other natural playground ideas.