Thursday, July 30, 2009

Concrete Playforms, Philadelphia, 1954

from the Life magazine archives.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

SPARK Parks, Houston, Texas

I've posted before about the San Francisco's Open Playgrounds project, in which they leave school playgrounds unlocked on weekends.

The city of Houston's SPARK program is even better:

"The SPARK School Park Program was developed in 1983 as a way to increase park space in Houston, Texas. Former Houston School Board member and former City Council Member, Eleanor Tinsley, created SPARK to develop public school grounds into neighborhood parks. "

Schools apply to the city to become a SPARK site; the surrounding neighborhood must demonstrate a willingness to help plan and fund the SPARK Park with partnerships between the school and community groups such as churches, businesses and civic clubs.
The school itself raises $5000, and the school district provides $5000 as well as overseeing bidding & overseeing construction of the SPARK Park, as well as maintenance of the park after completion.

"Each school selected is given a goal of raising $5,000 for their park. Penny drives, bake sales, school carnivals, candy sales, spaghetti dinners, "buy a brick" drives, rummage sales and innumerable other events are staged to generate the funds. Classes volunteer to care for trees planted in the parks. Local businesses often help with in-kind contributions. Architects, landscape architects, artists and businesses are solicited for their professional contributions through the parents, spouses and teachers at the school. "

More than 85 of the 180 SPARK Parks have public art components. About half of the projects are proposed and completed by art teachers at the schools. When there is no art teacher, a local artists is recruited to work with the students and architect on a project. The artwork often reflects the heritage of the neighborhood, a specific theme, the school mascot, and/or the school motto.

An astonishing 180 schools in Houston have turned their grounds into public parks over the 25 years of the Spark program! Try getting your city council to adopt a resolution to build 180 parks. Great concept, effective use of taxpayer resources, and one that more communities should adopt.
New York has recently begun a similar program, called Schoolyards to Playgrounds, investing 95 million in funding for playground improvements to open 266 schoolyards as playgrounds in underserved neighborhoods.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Grosse Tete, Francois Lalanne, La Grande Borne, Grigny France, 1967

Found at the enjoyable blog vulgare was this vintage playground I'd never heard of, located at La Grande Borne, a housing estate designed in 1965 by Emile Aillaud to include large-scale works of art.

I had difficulty finding complete information on this, but apparently the playground structures are by Francois Lalanne, known for his surrealistic animal sculptures like the "Rhinocrétaire", a life-size rhinocerous that folds out a writing desk. Which would also be fun on a playground.

Aillaud's 'Instead of Balance', a construction of swelling cobblestones that was apparently not originally intended as a playground, is nonetheless used as one as well.

photos via vulgare and Jean François Noël

"Flooded Chambers Maid", an accidental playground in Madison Square Park, NYC, Jessica Stockholder, 2009

"...the uptown end of the central lawn was already crowded with children playing on a multicolored triangular platform that looked as though it had been made from giant Lego blocks. The children clambered up and down, tossing balls, yelling gleefully and digging in a square of blue rubber mulch that lay on the ground beneath this structure. Their mothers and baby sitters lounged alongside them, sitting on the platform or watching from a set of adjoining turquoise bleachers."

Jessica Stockholder's installation was intended to be a "play on the concept of women’s work and service work, as well as art making...which incorporates industrial materials and ready-made manufactured objects, and its brightly colored parts combine to create something of a three-dimensional abstract painting in space."

But it has been quickly adopted as a playground.

“The minute the blue mulch went down...we e-mailed Jessica and said: ‘This is a sandbox. What kid wouldn’t want to play?’ And in fact by the next day a kid had made mounds and had a truck in there.” (The solution: Park employees rake and reshape the mulch twice a day.)"
Top two photos from anaba; remaining images and quotes from an article at the New York Times with photos by Tony Conicola.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Laughing Swing, Rinott, Rothschild and Weinstein, 2006

Another digital playground intervention is the laughing swing, by Michal Rinott & Michal Rothschild with Leor Weinstein.

"Laughing swing is an interaction between a person and a swing. It looks like a simple, regular swing. When you sit on it, it chuckles. As you swing, it laughs, and the higher you go, the harder it laughs. At the peak swinging it is laughing wildly.

The swing connects the experience of movement with the experience of laughter. It is a cycle: the person, by swinging, makes the swing laugh, and this laughter causes the person to laugh back.

Laughing Swing contains technological components, but it is not a technological object. It is used exactly as a regular swing, with technology adding a new aspect. The result is a fantastic experience that can reduce stress and anxiety. The swing’s laugh was chosen after auditioning a variety of different “laughers”.

More information on the concept of playful interactivity in public spaces, including 'the sonic waterfall' and 'the intimate bench' at an intriguing paper here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Richard The's Playground Parasites, 2007

Designer Richard The's 'playful parasites' are digital extensions to existing playgrounds, targeted to tech-savvy 'tweens. Here's what he says:

"Everybody knows how to use the “interfaces” for example a swing, a seasaw or a slide. On the other hand the actual time spent with these playground props, even by kids, usually does not last very long, their functionality does not bear a lot to discover, once the sensomotoric sensation has been experienced. Also a playground in urban space is not used by night time, and usually they are not even illuminated. The only audience which might attend a playground at night are so called gap-kids (age 10-17, too old for playgrounds but too young for anything else.).The system is designed to occupy an existing playground and its props, and to create a new, temporary identity for this heterotopical space in the city [with]...the possibility of a multi-user interaction with different input devices."

Basically, bluetooth equipped devices clip onto a swing, slide, or spring playground element, and recognize the presence and position of the user.

They would allow, for example, the creation of a musical playground in which "Each augmented playground device is connected to a specific track of a song. Each device can be played like a musical instrument, and each interaction would be different. Whenever there are more than two persons playing, the sound itself develops. New sounds appear, which are not controlled by the persons, or the sounds change during the time of playing together."

Or by using a DMX light source, the movement of swings and rockers can be translated into roving spots of light: "Once a person swings higher the light still moves according to the swing but swings much further, and eventually even crosses the borders of the playground space and moves around on the street. Additional interactions with the other equipped devices could be possible, for example a rocking device could control the second axis of the light spot’s movement. So together one would would control a light spot moving around on the playground and its surrounding environment."

In urban areas, with surrounding blank walls, this could lead to the projection of windows for shadow play: "Each playground device controls one window, and triggers other actions in the windows next to it, which cannot be controlled by the players.The different players on the playground can create micro-narratives happening in this Trompe-l’œil facade."

Fascinating concepts that currently exist only in prototype form.

Berlin playground elements

Public art as playground at Postdamer Platz in Berlin. Photos by brytness4 at webshots and indi ffo at flickr.

As always, if you have further information on designers or dates, please share!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Playscapes blog in Landscape Architecture magazine

So, playscapes blog was pleased to be featured in the June issue of Landscape Architecture magazine, the publication of the American Society of Landscape Architects, as part of an article about landscape architects who blog. I'm not a landscape architect, but they let me play along anyway. If you'd like to take a look, the entire issue is available for download at zinio (for $5.25), but you can browse up to four pages for free. I'm smiling at you from page 49.

Monday, July 13, 2009

King of the Jungle playground, James Floyd, Toronto, Ontario

Little Norway Park, also in Toronto. Love those silvery claws. No info on designer or date...

Thanks to reader Scott Torrance for letting me know that this is the work of landscape architect James Floyd, who practices in Newfoundland.

[photos by bennylin0724 and greying_geezer via flickr]

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Jamie Bell Playground, Toronto Ontario, Leathers and Associates, 1998

As anticipated from the previous post, there wasn't much going on in Toronto playground-wise. Reader Jenny did send me a recommendation for the Jamie Bell playground in High Park, however, which is the work of Leathers and Associates out of New York, and about whom I've been meaning to post about for some time.

They were an early adopter of the community-build concept (as early as 1971), and have constructed nearly 2000 custom playgrounds, mostly of wood. Their extensive use of pyramidal spires makes their work very recognizable. At Jamie Bell the artwork was carried out by children and grown-up volunteers to celebrate area history and culture.

The conference I was attending regrettably didn't have time slots for playground visits, so photos are via flickr, by grant macdonald and tomtec.