Friday, October 15, 2010

How did you Play? and... an Introduction to Play Work

This past summer, Penny Willson (a London Play Worker) came to Anchorage and we had a chance to visit with her. Here's a video featuring her:

One of the questions she posed is a great way to engage people: simply ask them for their memories of play. I posed that question to my friends on Facebook, and received the following replies. What's your answer? Please share via comment on this blog. How do the answers below, and your own answers shape the way we should really be addressing play?
  • Climbing trees, exploring wooded areas, catching insects. Basically being free to explore open and wooded areas.
  • When I was a kid we used to play "Escape from Libya" in the creek by our house. That game pretty much puts a timestamp on me and a political stamp on my parents.
  • Free ranging on my tricycle, then later my bicycle all summer long. The neighborhood kids and I were also very adept at building snow forts in the winter was tragic every year when they'd melt
  • Ahh... probably colouring in my favourite colouring boouk. [note: this may have been mocking my Canadian spelling practices]
  • Going over to a friend's house in seattle, where there was a huge playroom filled with every toy on the market. and a cable slide in the yard. and we could forget about table manners and all other ideas about proper conduct and protocol
  • Riding around the neighbourhood making up treasure hunts with my friend...oh and there were walkie talkies too.
  • Monkey bars.
  • Rambling through the fields, forests and pig pastures of our farm, mapping all the nooks and crannies, and giving them names, then later baking a mess of mud pies for sustenance. Frequently in rubber boots, sometimes in winter ones
  • The first ones that come to mind deal with getting completely lost in imaginary worlds that were so real... whether in the woods, on the monkey bars, playing with Lego, reading a book or 'playing star wars'. I sincerely miss that feeling... but do recapture it once in a while. THAT is the highlight of my adult life... =
  • Lap game.
  • Swimming in a mud puddle! I know, sad, isn't it? :)
  • Kick the can, nighttime camping games with a bunch of us roaming around with no parents watching
  • Playing with frogs and toads. and catching grasshoppers. and lightening bugs. and building houses for them all to keep in my window.
  • Riding bikes and playing on 'the hill'... a little mound of dirt in a wildflower field which wasn't much of a hill and is now covered with housing... and massive neighbourhood wide games of hide & seek...
  • Exploring in abandoned buildings and riding bikes in the neighborhood. Also playing tag on summer days rocked!!!
  • One more...playing "Not-it" on the monkey bars.

Playscape - The Royal Horticultural Society Tatton Park Show

Garden Shows are common in other countries as a place to show new and special ideas. This video shows the inclusion of a playscape into the Royal Horticultural Society Tatton Park Show.

Loose Parts - Snug

Another well-designed kit of parts.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Places for Play: Exhibition

The slide shows accessible via the link below are a GREAT resource for examples of adventure and natural based playscapes as well as providing critique of physical playspaces and societal associations with play.

The exhibition is: "not intended to be understood as a set of exemplers demonstrating 'good practice' to be copied and then transferred to other locations. Rather the exhibition - images and text together - aims to illuminate general principles, values, and understandings that are widely applicable but which come to life in diverse ways in different locations".

As a landscape architectural practice, we are for the most part a consultancy - and the editorial section of 'Places for Play: The Exhibition' lists consultation as often being the moment of conception for problems and downfalls in playground design.

"Put another way, what counts as consultation frequently starts with the wrong questions and proceeds with the wrong answers. This is perfectly expressed in the widespread habit of using play equipment catalogues as the focus for making choices about play spaces......To begin with questions of play equipment is to start in the wrong place. It would be alarming if an architect began a design for a house by inviting the client to choose the sofas"

We learn from comments like this... and in all of our practice, prescribe to the idea of 'appropriate design'. We spend a great deal of time listening and investigating. Our ideal desired role is as a landscape facilitator, in that we try to help people find the design that is right for them. For play... we like to be playscape facilitators.

Experimental Playground Project

This is a fantastic project conducted in London. The designers began the project by "transforming the entire space into a large scale experimental laboratory". The intent was to break down preconceived notions about the playground in its current state and open up new possibilities for what could happen with the site. Many loose parts were provided for the adaptation of the site to the rigors of the childrens' imaginations. Instead of relying upon verbal input from the children for what they wanted, which can prove to be a challenge, the designers had the children show them by observing how they used the site and its amenities, and shaped it through their own actions.

The final project transformation begins at 3:05

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Alvar Aalto - Designing WITH Play

While designing for play is our overarching query, we must question how designing with play can inform our process and product, potentially creating a more refined end result that communicates and activates on varying levels.

Alvar Aalto discusses the integration of experimentation and play in his design methodology, while also stressing responsibility.

[I have] a firm conviction and instinctive feeling that in the midst of our labouring, calculating, utilitarian age, we must continue to believe in the crucial signifigance of play when building a society for human beings, those grown-up children. The same idea, in one form or another, surely lies at the back of every resposible architect's mind. A one-sided concentration on play however, would lead us to play with forms, structures, and eventually the body and soul of other people; that would mean treating play as a jest [...] we must combine laboratory work with the mentality of play, or vice versa. Only when the constructive parts of a building, the forms derived from them logically, and our empirical knowledge is [sic] coloured with what we might seriously call the art of play; only then are we on the right path. Technology and economics must always be combined with a life-enhancing charm.

Excerpt from,
The Thinking Hand, Existential and Embodied Wisdom in Architecture, by Juhani Pallasmaa

Alvar Allto - Sketch for Vuoksenniska Church, 1955
From the exhibit
Shifting Contour ,Experiencing Landscape in Aalto's Architecture
Alvar Aalto Museum May 17 - September 27, 2009