Thursday, September 22, 2011

Castle at Wilson Park, Fayetteville Arkansas USA, Frank Williams, 1980

 I've just done an interview for a parks and recs magazine in which I noted the fact that standardized 'kit' playgrounds rarely worm themselves into a neighborhood's communal heart the way a playscape that is unique to its site can. 

In 1970 Fayetteville held a contest to improve the area around a natural spring. Artist and sculptor Frank Williams presented a scale model for a "fantasy play castle sculpture garden" that would eventually be known simply as "The Castle".  Frank called it  "Seven Points" and designed seven cement castellations  and a rock in the foot bridge with the number "7" in it.

Inspired by Gaudi and thinking that a structure already in 'faux decay' would little show the ravages of time and children, Frank embarked on the project with the support of the Arkansas Arts Council.  Incredibly, Williams did most of the ferro-cement and natural stone construction himself, outlasting multiple assistants and extending a three month project to a full year. 

Williams' website details the playground's constructions, and the trials associated with it:

"I had plans for landscaping and plantings that had to be scrapped. At least two bronze sculptures I had designed were dropped. And untold options and possibilities were ditched due to the practical concerns of time and money.
I pushed and we hurried but when the money was out helpers had practical choices to make and some had to find other paying jobs...ultimately it was me alone cleaning up and trying to plant a few purchased and donated plants and trees with the donated aide of a local landscaper.
But we did have the opening over that hot weekend."

Perseverance paid off in a place envisioned for both the 'young of age and the young of heart'; thirty years of children playing, teenagers hanging out, tired grown-ups dangling their feet in the water, and countless graduation and wedding photographs taken there by the citizens of Fayetteville.  How many playgrounds are special enough that the community wants to mark its special moments there?

At the castle's 25th anniversary celebration, Williams noted that it is a place "where many children forget about television and video games.” Amidst all the hand-wringing about childhood obesity, we need to acknowledge that grown-up playground makers aren't always making spaces that are interesting enough to keep children active.  Saying 'kids should play outside!' is the easy part.   Making places so engaging that they forget about television and video games is more difficult, but so important.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Road-sign fencing and YouthBuild


A fence made of roadsigns that I posted in 2008 is, oddly enough, one of the most visited posts on playscapes.  But it was just an there is a full instructable for road sign fencing courtesy of the construction manager for the Greensboro, Alabama chapter of YouthBuild, which is a national program funded by the Department of Labor that provides low-income young people a chance to study for their GED and acquire trade skills, all while earning a small stipend for their labor.

"The local county and state highway engineering offices donated old road signs, which we then cut, sanded, filed, and drilled to create pickets. Using jigs and a self-organized assembly line, the students manufactured nearly a thousand pickets for roughly 225 linear feet of fencing. By cutting and randomly re-assembling the signs, the graphics were broken and rebuilt into a new collage of abstract symbol and color."

In general playgrounds should not be fenced, and certainly not all the way around.  But sometimes a site dictates a partial barrier; this is a great choice.  
[via boingboing]

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Inspiration for Geometry on the Playground

The Geometry Playground Exhibition has a flickr group with loads of images to inspire geometric playspaces:

bladzijde 3 by ingrid siliakus

Stone  IV IX MMXI by andrea russo

But the most sublime geometrizing is by Anne Tyng, an architect whose life work to 'inhabit geometry' has recently been the subject of an exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, featuring habitable platonic solids that would be AMAZING on the playground.

photo by Matthew Suib/Greenhouse Media

So look at that and then look at this: 

Not good enough.  Not anywhere near good enough. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Geometry on the Playground

John McClellan, Playground, 1957

The Geometry Playground, a traveling play exhibition funded by the United States National Science Foundation, includes a  maze-like gyroid, corkscrew tunnels, and an anamorphic hopscotch court.   Visit their website for the tour schedule, or to request a visit to a museum near you.

Some time ago on the blog I lamented the loss of 'real things' on the playground--decommissioned fire trucks, factory machines, and jet planes that used to allow children to to absorb the workings of a gear assembly or the nature of a riveted skin while they played.

Mathematical functions are 'real things' too, and portraying them in solid form provides an interactive learning experience and gives artificial climbing structures a reason for being in a marketplace that is increasingly disenchanted with the same old poles and platforms.  Playground manufacturers should take note.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Kids' Health and Fitness Is Important

Parents have a lot of responsibilities to their children. They have to provide food, shelter, clothing and love. In addition, they have to teach manners, how to tie shoes and how to use the potty. While parents do have a lot on their plates, they can't forget the importance of teaching their kids health and fitness.
It's very important that children learn at a young age about healthy eating and exercise. If they learn to love fruits and vegetables and enjoy being active as children, it will really help them the rest of their lives.

It can be easy for parents to get caught up in other things that they don't think about health and fitness. With work, errands, cooking, cleaning and just taking care of a child's need, it can seem that there is no time to devote to exercise or think about what kids are eating. After all, it's quicker to give your kids a processed snack or pick up fast food than it is to prepare a healthy snack or lunch.
Parents can use many excuses for not doing the right things. They're too busy, too tired, or they just don't know what to do or how to change. You can always find an excuse for not doing something. At some point, you just have to come to the realization that it's important and you have to find a way to make it happen.

Childhood obesity is a major problem and it's because too many parents make excuses. They don't take responsibility for their child's health. The easy route is to let your kids watch as much TV as they want. But the best thing for them is to make them turn of the TV and do something active. The same is often true for food.
First, parents should start educating themselves about health and fitness. Purchase more fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds and stop buying a lot of processed snacks. Take 30 minutes out of your day to participate in some fun kids exercises with your children. If you do it with them, they are more likely to join in.

Teaching your kids about health and fitness is a conscious choice. It takes effort, but in the end it is well worth it. Show your kids that being healthy will help them feel better and live a long, happy life. As a parent, that is one of the greatest gifts you can give them.
Remember that the reason to learn about health and fitness for kids is to give you skills and knowledge necessary to help your children become the healthiest people they can be. Download a free report with tips and instructions you need to get started quickly with fitness by visiting Kids Exercise and learn how to have fun while playing exercise games.

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