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03 JULY 2012

Sense of adventure: what happened to playgrounds that give children space?

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)

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TAGS

1940s19431980s1990sad-hocadventure playgroundAldo van EyckAlfred Trachselausterity • Battersea • bomb site • Camberwell • Carl Theodor Sorensen • challenge imagination • childhood imaginationchildren • clashing colours • coalition governmentcobbled together • construction site • CopenhagencreativityDanishDenmarkdetritus • didactic • didactism • dream up • elementary forms • Emdrup housing estate • Empress Frederick • engagement • Erect Architecture • exposure to risk • formwork • free expressionfun • Glamis Adventure Playground • healing effects • health and safety culturehybridimaginationimprovisation • informality • junkjunk playgroundjunk playgrounds • Justin McGuirk • Kilburn Grange Park • Labour governmentLady Allen of Hurtwoodlearningmakeshift • model citizen • modernismmodernist aestheticmodernist furniture • new era of design • NIMBY • open-endedopen-ended play spacesparticipatoryparticipatory processpersonal responsibilityplay • play leader • play spaces • play worker • playground • playground design • playscapespost-war • post-war reconstruction • postmodern assemblagerecycled materialsrisk-takingRobinson Crusoe • rough wood • rubbishrustic • salvaged • sanitised • scriptible spaces • Shadwell • skew-whiff • sterile placesstreetscape • Theodor Sorenson • urban scars • warfare • weird structures • Zaha Hadid

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
09 MAY 2011

Monkey Magazine: a new publishing vernacular?

"In the future, as depicted in the 2002 film Minority Report, our periodicals will create interactive, hybrid reading/viewing experiences–with built–in sound and motion–based commercials rather than static advertisements, incorporating news footage with pages that dissolve and re–form to reflect breaking stories. Despite minute gestures in that direction, such as the Amazon Kindle and G24, The Guardian's PDF newspaper that's updated throughout the day, that vision of media–if there's really a market for it–is a long way off. ...

Nevertheless, something ... is now available weekly from Dennis Publishing, the company that gave the world The Week, Maxim and several other British 'lad magazines' as well as launched their American spin–offs. Monkey is proportioned like a glossy, has an interface that mimics the turning of pages and even has a magazine–like layout: margins, a basic two–column grid, images combined with text and print–like pacing. The difference is that Monkey's text sparkles (literally, if not figuratively), dances and slides onto the page. Many of the photos will turn into movies or slideshows (some rather naughty) when clicked, and on some spreads users can shuffle page elements, substituting one image for another. The format also changes to serve its content. A small mini–magazine with short reviews is digitally 'stitched' into the 'middle' of each issue. Additionally, most advertisements come alive, thanks either to Flash, streaming video or some combination, showing previews of movies or commercials for products framed by the equivalent of a full–page ad.

To be sure, Monkey does nothing that isn't done on other websites, and it has formal predecessors for its page interface–the arty This Is a Magazine, for one, and the webified versions of print glossies from Zinio for another. But unlike the wider web–which has evolved its own vocabulary and conventions for storytelling–and other web magazine predecessors–for which the turn–the–page interface seems a formal conceit–Monkey truly blends old and new media design conventions in a way that is both appalling and appealing."

(Jandos Rothstein, 29 January 2008)

Fig.1 Monkey Magazine, 2011. Dennis Publishing, Issue 183, pp.8,9.

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TAGS

Adobe FlashAIGAAmazon Kindleanimated presentationcelebritycontent formconventions • Dennis Publishing • design aestheticsdesign conventionsdesign for the screendesign vocabulary • digitally stitched • e-zine • experience design • ezine • formal conceit • G24 • hybridhybrid experiencehybrid forms • lads mag • magazinemagazine layout • Maxim (magazine) • mens magazine • mini-magazine • Minority Report • Monkey Magazine • motion-based commercials • multimedianaughtynew medianews footagenewspaper • page interface • page metaphorpaginationpastiche • PDF newspaper • pin-upprediction • print glossies • print-like • publishingreading experience • screen dissolve • sexslide showstorytellingstreaming videoThe Guardian • The Week (magazine) • This Is a Magazine • triviaturn-the-page interfacevernacularviewing experiencevisual communicationvisual languagevisual vernacularweb designweb magazineweb vernacularwebified • webzine • Zinio (magazine)

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
03 MAY 2010

The Mutato-Archive: a collection of non-standard fruits, roots and vegetables

"The Mutato–Archive is a collection of non–standard fruits, roots and vegetables, displaying a dazzling variety of forms, colours and textures... The complete absence of botanical anomalies in our supermarkets has caused us to regard the consistency of produce presented there as natural. Produce has become a highly designed, monotonous product. ... The Mutato–Project serves to document, preserve and promote these last survivors of biological variety."

(Uli Westphal, 2006)

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CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
06 NOVEMBER 2009

Mutant Fruit: Biological Hybridization

"pluots and apriums aren't just recently popularized fruits. They're the result of hard work by the Zaiger family of Modesto, California, who for the last 30 years or so, have been quietly marrying apricots and plums – among other stone fruits – in an effort to create crazy new fruits (with Zaiger–registered trademarks, of course) for the marketplace."

(MissGinsu.com)

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TAGS

agriculture • apricot • aprium • bio-ethicsbiologicalbiologybiotechnology • breeding • foodfruit • fruit hybridization • genetic engineeringhybridhybridisation • Modesto • mutant • nectacotum • nectaplum • nectarcot • peacotum • plant • plum • plumcot • pluot • Prunus • reflexive modernisationreproductionscience • strawbana • Zaiger Genetics

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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