3 Inspiring Designer Playgrounds

Assemble re-envisioned the unforgiving brutalist playgrounds common around 1960s London in kinder, gentler reconstituted foam. Photo by Tristan Fewings.
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Harmonic Motion, an installation by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam, fills a gallery at the Toledo Museum of Art. Photo by Roberto Boccaccino.
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Architect Kengo Kuma’s playroom for a community centre in Towada, Japan, features an undulating landscape of solid cedar planks. Photo by Kenta Hasegawa.
Assemble re-envisioned the unforgiving brutalist playgrounds common around 1960s London in kinder, gentler reconstituted foam. Photo by Tristan Fewings.
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Created by Assemble, Kengo Kuma and Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam, these environments for unstructured play let children’s imaginations roam free.

In a world where finger painting is done on an iPad and games are played alone in front of a screen, there’s little room left for kids to make their own fun. Unstructured play is essential to childhood development, but opportunities are dwindling as play spaces are more and more scrutinized for safety. In banishing danger from the playground, have we tossed the baby out with the bathwater?

The brutalist playgrounds of 1960s London are a parent’s nightmare: concrete pits rife with hard edges and sharp corners to skin knees and shatter bones. However, for a recent installation at the Royal Institute of British Architects, design collective Assemble highlighted the potential of these undefined landscapes and their rugged minimalism by re­making them, at full scale, in a softer, safer pastel pebbled foam.

Other practitioners are also coming up with solutions that minimize danger yet inspire inventiveness. Architect Kengo Kuma recently designed a simple playscape, in a Jap­a­nese community centre, that leaves plenty of space for the imagination to run wild. The undulating floor mimics natural terrain, with stacks of oblong wooden forms that decrease in size as the hill builds up. Kids can climb, slide down or (with a little imagination) navigate a boat through the waves.

To build colourful landscapes with trampoline-like bounce, Nova Scotia textile artist Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam hand-crochets tensile nylon sculptures using giant hooks that she improvises from dowels. The vibrant expanses feature bouncy surfaces with dangling appendages to swing on below. Like massive nets, they captured the attention of children and adults alike during a summer installation at the Toledo Museum of Art, celebrating the freedom to play and its essential role in invigor­at­ing the human spirit.

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