Saturday, March 28, 2009

An Early Natural Playground Advocate from 1926

"May I make a plea for a greater use of things as they are? The original valley was attractive and would have given more area for play...Here was a natural bird retreat, which has now a bird house--a good thing in itself, of course, but why destroy the natural to gain the artificial?

This valley was a natural walk and a few years ago might have been made into a pleasing gateway to the park. It would have wound by the brookside where one could enjoy the wild plants....Let us get away from the obsession that we must artificialize the entire play areas."

"Mother Nature's Invitation", by William G. Vinal, in The Playground Magazine, March, 1926.
It would appear that natural playgrounds are hardly a new idea.

[text from the online archives of the Library of Congress, photo from the flickr photostream of Tim Gill. 'Richmond Park in West London: one of the capital's royal parks, where the rangers appear relaxed about den and shelter building']

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Playground Alphabet

Vintage ABC climbers in East Rochester, Ohio, via the flickr photostream of scottamus.

The whole alphabet, anybody?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Platforum, Clara Gaggero, Villiers High School, London, 2008

A more modern take on hangouts is this teen playscape designed for Villiers High School in West London by a Royal College of Art student. Villiers students themselves initiated the design process for an eco-playground aimed at teenagers.
"They applied for funding and when they discovered no specialist playground company could provide what they wanted, they RCA design students for help. The result was a design commission for Clara Gaggero (IDE graduate 2007). Now a well used, much appreciated school facility, the project was unique in that all the pupils of the school were consulted over the plans, with workshops run, films and presentations made and the playground built to the pupils’ specifications."

"The school had been having problems with the existing playground, because it seemed to be a focus for aggression and violence, with some students even having their noses broken. In fact, at lunchtime the space was only used by 30 or 40 students, with the rest choosing to stay indoors. The school obtained funding of £25,000 to redesign the playground, and because it had been impressed with Clara’s previous work, in particular her willingness to consult the students themselves, it invited her back.

The school had already been approached by makers of playground equipment, who had wanted to install slides and swings, which clearly would have been inappropriate for teenagers. Clara, by contrast, ran three workshops with students to find out what they wanted, which was a space in which they could socialise freely. The teachers, meanwhile, were keen for her to create a space that would minimise playtime fighting.

With the students’ help, Clara came up with a design that breaks up the playground area using lots of large concrete blocks. Two moulds were used to create the blocks: one in the shape of a bench, and the other a box with two sides missing. Altogether, they created 35 precast benches and 25 precast boxes. By putting the blocks next to each other, or putting one on top of the other, Clara created different kinds of spaces where students could stand, sit or climb. The blocks were painted a bright green.

The idea was to create territories in the playground, where teenagers could socialise with their own circle of friends. “The less prescriptive the spaces, the more people will find a corner,” says Clara. “In this case, their way to play is socialising – they are in that stage where you hang around and talk, so it just needed a lot of spots to chat.” Since the blocks were installed in May, the playground has been used much more extensively. Now, at lunchtimes, there are about 700 students using the space: “They found their own area – people who were a bit more extrovert were always in the centre of the playground and people who were a bit more shy were always on the borders.” What is more, Clara adds, the sense of danger in the playground has disappeared: “Since May there have been no broken noses.”

Here's what she says about the project, entitled Platforum:

"numbers that explain this adventure: 1,300 students 35 nationalities 1,750 sqm to refurbish £15 budget per sqm 3 days to meet the students 6 days to generate 3 concepts 24 days to finalise and produce the chosen design 12 days to build it 1,200 sqm of new asphalt 300 sqm of green paint 40 m of climbing wall3 5 concrete precast benches 25 concrete precast boxes4 moulds 1 crane 3 lorries 4.22 GB of files 3 teachers 14 students 7 friends 4 mentors 16 builders 3 contractors… 5 photos by Adrian Westaway"

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hang-outs, Richter Spielgerate

As I've mentioned before, the presence of tweens and teens on playgrounds is rarely facilitated within the design, and often seems to be actively discouraged. Skate parks are an obvious attempt to address their recreational needs, but the integration of hang-out spaces into existing facilities is a good approach as well. I especially like the simple addition of the large decks to a standard playground build (first photo). The structure in the last photo is specifically called a 'sitting fence'.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bike Hills at the Garden of Remembrance, Dani Karavan, 1999

I don't think that the undulating hills at artist Dani Karavan's Garden of Remembrance in Duisberg were intended as a playscape, but the artist wouldn't mind:

"Generally, my work is created for people to use. My art cannot exist without people. My work is not there to be looked at but to be experienced.”
photos and text from the book 'In Gardens', published by Birkhäuser Basel, 2005.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bloom, Sam Spenser, 2008

In the things-I'd-like-to-see-on-a-playground category....

137 yellow umbrellas (Pantone 137C) in a tree, by Goldsmiths art college student Sam Spenser.
Titled 'Bloom'.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Spiral Tree Climber

This comes from my files, source unknown. Enlighten me if you have it. I'm all for tree climbing, but in a busy playground too many children can stress the tree. This is a beautiful solution.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Inspiration for the Small Playground

I like the idea of centering a small playscape around a hill. I'd prefer more natural elements, but this is a nice starter arrangement for a church, child care center, or home playground, with far more play value than the same features on flat ground.

From my files, so no source, but by the name I saved it under must be German. The climbing ramp with a rope down the middle as a handhold is a feature I see often in European playgrounds but rarely in American ones.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Happy Trails, MIG

Saddle-up at the Market Street playground in Scottsdale Arizona by MIG, whose water-playscapes were featured in a previous post. I love this idea...buying second-hand tack would make it very affordable.