Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays!

What a fantastic time of year! Having just passed the solstice, in Anchorage we have around five and a half hours of sunshine, and growing. The amount of darkness we have contributes greatly to how amazing this time of year is. Regardless of what we celebrate, Anchorage has come alive with lights and walking through neighborhoods, you can't help but feel that we're putting on a show for one another. This time of year is an opportunity to create an outdoor mood of celebration, family and friendship.

Each year, a neighbor down the street from us creates ice lumieres. His place is one of the most beautiful in Anchorage because of them, and we greatly appreciate his contribution to making this time of year feel special. These kind of displays remind me about sharing and being neighborly.

So... enjoy the lights, make a snow angel, build a jaunty snowman and try to do other things to leave your mark on our outside spaces that might make someone else smile. It's about the spirit.
 (For those of you that are wondering, he takes a 5 gallon bucket and fills it with water. You let it freeze until it's a cylinder of ice with water in the center. Break the ice to let the water out, and free the cylinder from the bucket. Then you can put the lumiere over a christmas light, or place a candle inside of it.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Astronomical "Play"

When we consider what we call "complete play", experiential learning is as important to us as the more typically considered "active" components. A few nights ago, many of us experienced the lunar eclipse. When these events happen, they're an amazing opportunity for some pretty exciting learning. This got us to thinking about how we've seen a number of designs where the artist or designer adds components to get us thinking about our planet, and what's out beyond our planet.

December 20th, 2010 Lunar Eclipse
So, one of the places that we know of that really helps us experience our relationship with astonomy is Jantar Mantar.
From Wikipedia: "The Jantar Mantar is a collection of architectural astronomical instruments, built by Maharaja (King) Jai Singh II at his then new capital of Jaipur between 1727 and 1734. It is modeled after the one that he had built for him at the Mughal capital of Delhi. He had constructed a total of five such facilities at different locations, including the ones at Delhi and Jaipur. The Jaipur observatory is the largest and best preserved of these. It has been inscribed on the World Heritage List as "an expression of the astronomical skills and cosmological concepts of the court of a scholarly prince at the end of the Mughal period"."

When we look at this, we see so many opportunities for play areas and design in general.

Another personal favorite, of the "land art" persuasion is James Turrel's Roden Crater.

From Wikipedia: "The artist James Turrell, for his Land art project, acquired the 400,000-year-old, 3-mile-wide (4.8 km) crater's land. Turrell has since been transforming the inner cone of the crater into a massive naked-eye observatory, designed specifically for the viewing and experiencing sky-light, solar, and celestial phenomena. The fleeting Winter and Summer equinox events will be highlighted."

 We've seen things like this incorporated into Childrens' Gardens and playscapes as simply as a sundial where a kid can be the gnomen (pointer), or through viewing tubes that call particular attention to objects. The key is to sneak in there and make the knowledge fun and desirable to gain.

Friday, December 10, 2010

How does your city rank for being "Winter Aware"?

 This post isn't directly about play... but it's definitely relevant. How does your city not only plan for and accommodate winter, how does it celebrate it? I spent some time in Quebec City in February a few years ago and had the pleasure of experiencing one of the oldest "European" cities in North America when they'd been hit with a good amount of snow.

Quebec City has one amazing thing going for it (at least the old part of it)... it wasn't designed for cars. And, it's got history and layer upon layer of building and re-building. It's the kind of place we're trying to get back to with mixed-use and all of the "new" planning models we're embracing.

So, the first key to being a great winter/northern city is to embrace planning that is people-centered, rather than car-centered. Quebec City is about the experience at the street level.
Variety in facades, and a well-scaled street space.
 Regardless of the season, there's a lot to see and experience here... some works in the winter, and some doesn't. But... not everything needs to be all season?
Snow gives new context to everything.
If you provide a reason, and the people... businesses will embrace it too!
And people love it.

So... part of the secret is designing for all seasons, but leaving room to embrace the special aspects of the season you're in. Seasonal decoration and celebration...

A fantastic urban winter composition.

Like the post we did for Winnipeg (Winnipeg - Getting it Right for Winter), another important component is programming and providing people a reason to get outside. We can't all just hop on our skis to get out into the woods... so these urban opportunities provide an important service.

Skating right in the thick of history (and good lighting).
 There are also the fun that can be unique to winter:
Snow and ice... ultimate temporal artist's media?
Unexpected? Or designed for?
Make your own mark to share.
(we checked... the bicyclist isn't frozen in here too)
A very progressive city with its parking.

The things that add to all seasons in different ways.

No excuses for paying for parking.

If we look, we'll also see the reality of play in the winter. From our recent request for people's comments on their winter play memories (Memories of Winter Play), most play in the winter is specific to the season.

How much use do swings get?
Not much interpretive content in the winter.
 Access is also critical. It's great to see pathways and pedestrian routes included within snow clearing strategies.
Pedestrians actually have a priority for snow sometimes!
Clearing sidewalks.
Clearing roads (with sideblade attachment)
Winter takes all kinds of equipment.

If you do everything right (or mostly right), people will use winter. On side streets, pedestrians are just as important in the road as cars. I didn't get a photo, but on one street, a number of cars were waiting (very politely) as a man in a wheelchair made his way down the street. Everyone has the right to get around!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Winnipeg - Getting it Right for Winter

 I was in Winnipeg in February a few years ago, and gained inspiration with how they've developed things at "The Forks" and around town.

I was at the University of Manitoba to be on an awards jury, and at the same time they had a traditional winter-only sport going on. So during one of our breaks, we went out to look. Spectators look down from above, and two teams combat each other in a snow corridor. I'll try to get more info on the rules in case others might want to replicate it.
University of Manitoba - an unknown traditional winter sport...
At the The Forks (where the Assiniboine River meets the mighty Red River), the City of Winnipeg has created  conglomeration of fantastic all-season spaces that attract people to the area year-round. The winter appeal is that they have a plethora of skating, and other aspects that transform it into a "Winter Park".

Putting intentional focus on winter and what it offers.

 Also here is a fantastic skateboard park, that transitions into some winter uses. I particularly like the incorporation of some of the skatable art objects.
What is an amazing skatepark in the summer, becomes visually engaging.
Skate elements in an awesome skate park.

Add a winter slide... why not?!
Allow snowboarding use of skate elements.
Skate park next to skating rink.
It's really neat visiting a space, and seeing people skating along the skate paths that connect the river to various skating rinks, hockey rinks and covered skating areas.
Hockey and skating on the river, connected by skate trails.
Heading down the skate trails to play some hockey.
Winter skate trails connecting areas.
Covered skating area connected to skate trails.
Fun things along the way.
Programming is an important part of winter (and summer) play.

Indeed, a really important component of a place's vitality is programming (for all seasons). This year they had Warming Huts: An Art + Architecture Competition on ice. I wasn't there for it, but you can see the results using this link. It's a great way to engage the community in a dialogue.

As well, like many communities, they have other events like the snow carving festival I had the timing to be able to see (flat light and all for the photos).

Programming winter! Snow sculpture festival.
Snow sculpture in the downtown core. A large one.
Walking through these places, I was also reminded that ingenuity is one of the most important drivers for interesting winter recreation... and these kids with a video camera were definitely embracing the risk part of ingenuity.
Yes... this snowboarder is dropping in from the parking garage - friend filming.

When I travel, I like to visit places during different times of day and night... and winter is a good time to see the effectiveness of our lighting.
Lighting transforms this skate element.
Lighting does magical things with snow.

 Lastly... while it was rather chilly when I was there... there were still the signs that as designers there are cues that tell us how to design our microclimates to extend the ability for people to enjoy spaces comfortably.
It only takes a little sunlight to warm up dark colors on cold days.