"The following images begin with make-do playgrounds (as in the photographs by Helen Levitt, Henri Cartier-Bresson and others), but are followed by some unique and creative playground structures, some of which are mid-century modernist designs. As these images attest, playground equipment can be as simple as a tractor tire or mimic the amorphic abstraction of Jean Arp. So whether you are a landscape architect, a designer or just an inventive kid, all that really matters boils down to one simple question: do children like to play on it?"
(John Foster, 14 April 2013)
"Students get plenty of teacher interaction: Finland and New York City have the same number of teachers. But Finland has nearly half the number of students. Standardized testing is kept to a minimum: before a New York student reaches high school, he or she will have taken 10 standardized tests. Collectively, US students take 100 million standardized tests a year. Finland's only standardized test is taken when students are 16 years old. Kids have more time to be kids: an average us 5th grader has 50 minimum of homework per day. Finnish students rarely do homework until their teens. And while us elementary students average 27 minutes of recess students in Finland get about 75 minutes a day). Finland knows good teachers are essential: teachers in Finland are all required to have a Master's degree (which is fully subsidized by the state)."
(OnlineClasses.org, 21 January 2013)
"I'm impressed with Compressorhead - the three-piece robot band (three and a half if you count the little robot who drives one of the cymbals). I went to their website to see if I could discern the origins of the project, DIY, corporate, academic, or whatever and couldn't really find anything on the makers. Then I tracked down the drummer. Stickboy was created by Robocross Machines and a whimsical roboticist named Frank Barnes. ... Reminds me of the Survival Research Labs robot machines, built for public performance and disturbance."
(Maxwell Schnurer, 5 January 2013, Life of refinement)
Aldo "Van Eyck believed playgrounds should challenge a child's imagination without jarring the adult's aesthetic sensibilities. His abstract, elementary forms - often manufactured out of metal tubes like modernist furniture - were meant to belong in a well-mannered streetscape. During the same period in Britain, however, we were developing a tradition of playground design that was almost diametrically opposed. The first 'junk' playgrounds emerged amid the rubble of the Blitz, and the results were far less polite. Consisting of makeshift structures cobbled together out of roof beams and detritus, they were often designed with the assistance of the children themselves. That essential character survives today in descendants such as Glamis Adventure Playground in Shadwell, east London, a riot of skew-whiff woodwork and clashing colours, and an odd hybrid of post-war austerity and postmodern assemblage.
The junk playground model was created by the Danish architect Carl Theodor Sorensen, who believed playgrounds should reflect the imagination of the child not the architect. In 1943, having observed the creative way children play in construction sites, he developed the prototype junk playground on the Emdrup housing estate in Copenhagen.
The concept was brought to Britain by Lady Allen of Hurtwood, who tested it out on the site of a bombed church in Camberwell and then built dozens of what she called 'adventure playgrounds' - the term 'junk' tended to turn local mothers into nimbys. Not only did Allen feel that ordinary playgrounds were sterile places ('it is little wonder that [children] prefer the dumps of rough wood and piles of bricks and rubbish of the bombed sites'), but she believed in the healing effects of exposing children to the urban scars of warfare. At the same time, having them take part in the post-war reconstruction effort was deemed a good way of shaping model citizens.
Essentially, all playgrounds are designed to do the same thing: to help children develop their abilities, use up excess energy and keep them off the streets. But the ideology of the adventure playground is interesting for several reasons. First, there's the notion of not restricting children to the repetitive motions of the slide or swing, because the sooner you reach the technical limits of the equipment, the sooner you have to stretch those limits - hence all those swings you see coiled around the crossbar. The adventure playground was designed to liberate the wild thing within and, by exposing children to risk, teach them personal responsibility (all forms of play are underpinned by some form of didactism, so it's worth reminding ourselves that this is also simply more fun). Just as crucially, it was intrinsic to the concept that children be involved in designing the playgrounds, dreaming up weird structures and adapting them later by tacking on extra elements. This participatory dimension, managed by volunteer play leaders, is key to the development of their creativity.
It's curious how much the ethos of the adventure playground chimes with the language of a new era of design today: a 'participatory' process, recycled materials, an adaptive product. It doesn't sound like the 1940s. But equally valuable is the zone of exception that the adventure playground represents in the city, one of improvisation and informality that, pace Van Eyck, does not blend in to a polite streetscape.
Today, there are few true adventure playgrounds left, but occasionally another is built that follows all the essential tenets, such as the Kilburn Grange Park playground in north London, designed last year by Erect Architecture and based on the ideas of local kids. Increasingly, though, 'adventure playgrounds' are produced by specialist manufacturers and merely designed to look rustic. You can't adapt them, or at least anyone who tried would be carted off. These are the products of a health and safety culture that watered down adventure playgrounds in the 1980s and 90s. There was a minor revival a few years ago, when the Labour government invested £230m in new play spaces across England, but the coalition government freed that budget up for other uses, so it was short-lived. And now, with the cuts, several adventure playgrounds, including the giant ones in Battersea and Kilburn, face losing the play workers that make such playgrounds what they are.
It's worth remembering just how cheap and yet how luxurious these spaces are. We should let kids loose on this new breed of sanitised playground, to inject a little of the old spirit in them. I hear the builder behind Kilburn Grange Park salvaged the formwork from Zaha Hadid's Olympic diving towers - that could come in handy."
(Justin McGuirk, Tuesday 3 July 2012 15.40 BST, The Guardian)
Baroness Susan Greenfield "told the House of Lords that children's experiences on social networking sites 'are devoid of cohesive narrative and long-term significance. As a consequence, the mid-21st century mind might almost be infantilised, characterised by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathise and a shaky sense of identity'.
Arguing that social network sites are putting attention span in jeopardy, she said: 'If the young brain is exposed from the outset to a world of fast action and reaction, of instant new screen images flashing up with the press of a key, such rapid interchange might accustom the brain to operate over such timescales. Perhaps when in the real world such responses are not immediately forthcoming, we will see such behaviours and call them attention-deficit disorder. ...
She also warned against 'a much more marked preference for the here-and-now, where the immediacy of an experience trumps any regard for the consequences. After all, whenever you play a computer game, you can always just play it again; everything you do is reversible. The emphasis is on the thrill of the moment, the buzz of rescuing the princess in the game. No care is given for the princess herself, for the content or for any long-term significance, because there is none."
(Patrick Wintour, political editor guardian.co.uk, 24 February 2009)
2) Leading neuroscientist Lady Greenfield on the impact of spending hours in front of the computer and what makes a friend.