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Designed for Play

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Some of my earliest memories are of playgrounds: launching myself into a pit of plastic balls outside a fast-food restaurant in New York and whizzing down (and scratching my arm) on the horrifying concrete Monster Slide at a park in Israel. Play spaces, designed to incite wonder, burn energy, and capture the imaginations of children, inspire designers, too. Landscapes for play tend to be more eclectic and creative in Europe than in America, where issues of safety and liability (and a culture of litigation) reign in designers. But we've got cool playgrounds here, too.  Here's a global meander through some inspiring and innovative examples. For more, check out Landezine, a landscape architecture blog based out of Slovenia. And for an engaging overview of the history of the playground, check out Rebecca Mead's recent piece for the New Yorker.
 

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  To help engage and enliven underprivileged neighborhoods throughout the Netherlands, Dutch architects 2012architecten proposed to give each a set of five cracked, recycled windmill wings, and instructions on how to transform them into play equipment. Here's an example of a wing-turned-tunnel at Wikado, in Rotterdam.

    To help engage and enliven underprivileged neighborhoods throughout the Netherlands, Dutch architects 2012architecten proposed to give each a set of five cracked, recycled windmill wings, and instructions on how to transform them into play equipment. Here's an example of a wing-turned-tunnel at Wikado, in Rotterdam.

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  A wider view on Wikado.
    A wider view on Wikado.
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  David Rockwell's Imagination Playground—notable for its lack of fixed equipment, and plethora of loose parts—is scheduled to open later this summer at the South Street Seaport in New York City. The motley blue foam components allow children to create their own environment. This kind of free play is essential, scientists now believe, in building childrens' brains and fostering independent thinking. Next up on the starchitecture roster: Frank Gehry's play space for Battery Park, currently in development.

    David Rockwell's Imagination Playground—notable for its lack of fixed equipment, and plethora of loose parts—is scheduled to open later this summer at the South Street Seaport in New York City. The motley blue foam components allow children to create their own environment. This kind of free play is essential, scientists now believe, in building childrens' brains and fostering independent thinking. Next up on the starchitecture roster: Frank Gehry's play space for Battery Park, currently in development.

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  This playscape was designed by Rainier Schmidt for the 2005 BUGA national garden festival in Munich.

    This playscape was designed by Rainier Schmidt for the 2005 BUGA national garden festival in Munich.

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  Schmidt forwent traditional park fixtures like slides and jungle gyms in favor of a soft, rolling terrain of colorful Tartan turf and grassy hills laced with meandering pathways.
    Schmidt forwent traditional park fixtures like slides and jungle gyms in favor of a soft, rolling terrain of colorful Tartan turf and grassy hills laced with meandering pathways.
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  Located in the Hague, Nether­lands, Carve designed this park for chil­dren with disabilities. Since there are no clear features that designate this a handicapped-accessible park, the distinction between abled and disabled children fades. There are spaces for all levels of activity, from a wooden wall peppered with climbing holds for the more athletic, to a cave-like cutout where kids can hang out quietly.

    Located in the Hague, Nether­lands, Carve designed this park for chil­dren with disabilities. Since there are no clear features that designate this a handicapped-accessible park, the distinction between abled and disabled children fades. There are spaces for all levels of activity, from a wooden wall peppered with climbing holds for the more athletic, to a cave-like cutout where kids can hang out quietly.

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  Here's another project by Carve: Walhalla, a structure made out of two vertical mesh screens, with undulating ribbons of steel inside. With climbing holds on the exterior, kids can truly climb in, on, and around it. Maximum fun in minimum square footage.
    Here's another project by Carve: Walhalla, a structure made out of two vertical mesh screens, with undulating ribbons of steel inside. With climbing holds on the exterior, kids can truly climb in, on, and around it. Maximum fun in minimum square footage.
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  For this Portugal park, architect Lara Plácido and sculptor Sara Bento Botelho created an installation of truly public art: a garden of felt-tip markers, poised at the ends of flexible rods that arch out of the ground, hovering above the surface of a white wall. When the wind blows, the markers leave a colorful trace.

    For this Portugal park, architect Lara Plácido and sculptor Sara Bento Botelho created an installation of truly public art: a garden of felt-tip markers, poised at the ends of flexible rods that arch out of the ground, hovering above the surface of a white wall. When the wind blows, the markers leave a colorful trace.

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  Passersby are encouraged to participate as well.
    Passersby are encouraged to participate as well.
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  After a few days, the wall is a jubilant mess. The designers call the result a "diary of the garden."
    After a few days, the wall is a jubilant mess. The designers call the result a "diary of the garden."
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  Teardrop Park in lower Manhattan, designed by Michael Van Valkenburg Associates, gives city kids a natural landscape to frolic in. There are rocks to climb on and slide down, water fountains that shoot into the air, and grotto-like enclaves to hide in.

    Teardrop Park in lower Manhattan, designed by Michael Van Valkenburg Associates, gives city kids a natural landscape to frolic in. There are rocks to climb on and slide down, water fountains that shoot into the air, and grotto-like enclaves to hide in.

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  A watery view of Teardrop Park.
    A watery view of Teardrop Park.
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  Canadian landscape architecture firm Space2place creates "site-specific designs that foster healthy development of children and strong connections to the outdoor world." Here, the Garden City Play Environment in Richmond British Columbia incorporates salvaged pieces of old growth cedar from a nearby forest.

    Canadian landscape architecture firm Space2place creates "site-specific designs that foster healthy development of children and strong connections to the outdoor world." Here, the Garden City Play Environment in Richmond British Columbia incorporates salvaged pieces of old growth cedar from a nearby forest.

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