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Mid-Century Modern on the Playground

In honor of our family themed July/August issue, we've invited guest writer Paige Johnson, who spearheads the blog Playscapes, to share her perspective on some of the most innovative contemporary design targeted to kids. Week 4: Mid-Century Modern on the Playground.

 

The mid-century was an exciting time in playground design. In fact, the word "playscape" was first coined in 1959 to define a new type of playground that evolved from metal swings and slides to become modernistic play sculptures designed to relate to the user to the site in new ways. While the 1950s and 1960s focused on blending art and play, the 1970s emphasized self-built sites and adventure. Then, as now, there was discontent with manufactured solutions and two conflicting goals surrounding playgrounds: incorporating innovative design objects and encouraging self-building and interaction with natural materials. I hope that when historians look back on the play landscape of the early 21st century, it will look just as innovative and exciting as mid-century playscapes do to us now. Click through for a look at my favorite historic playground designs.

Modernist design principles came to the playground through the work of Dutch architect Aldo Van Eyck. When he began his work in 1947 there were few public playgrounds in Amsterdam. When he finished thirty years later, he had constructed over 700 serene, minimalist play environments. Sometimes, as in these photos, he simply carved out a section of the street, giving children as much legitimacy in the city fabric as vehicles.Images from Aldo van Eyck, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, NAi Publishers, 2002.

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