Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ban the Ball!

Rex Murphy is a fantastic commentator... I've seen him speak in person as a keynote at a conference, and I was enthralled by the research he had done in preparation. He has the ability to take in information, mull it over, and give it back to you with thoughts and connections that make it fresh and new.

With this clip, he brings his powerful sarcasm to bear on the idea that balls should be banned (or perhaps a controlled substance) on the playground. Definitely worth watching!

Rex Murphy - Ban the Ball

Thursday, October 27, 2011


As designers, we cherish when we can get the "real scoop" on what people think of our designs... or on the designs of others. The final arbiter of whether something is successful comes from the user.

We just found out about a play group in Anchorage that goes to a different park, play area, trail, etc... each week. The person who organizes the group writes up their trips. We love the fact that the blog acts as a local review for our natural and playspaces. Have a look... maybe do the same in your community:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Inventing Games

Clif had an interesting contest where they asked kids to invent games. Here is a link to the finalists: Clif Backyard Kid Games Contest

Pavement Games

Pavement games can be a great way to add inexpensive play opportunities to a playground. This is a school playground in Edmonton where they had a decent variety including some curriculum based fun (a calculator?). The fun of some of these is guessing how they're supposed to be played... that is, IF there is a way they're supposed to be played.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Dream Pipe

Click on the image to be taken to the Kill Screen blog to read an interview with the designer of Schulberg Playground in Wiesbaden.


An very interesting blog post from Kaboom about Bob Cassilly and his playspace development:

"True to its name, Cementland is an abandoned cement factory in St. Louis that Cassilly was vigilantly working to transform into an unconventional playspace and tourist attraction. Tragically, it was while he was working there that he died at the hands of a bulldozer on Monday at age 61."

Friday, September 30, 2011

Landscape Architecture

We're landscape architects, and proud to be in such an inclusive and broad profession. This is a great video that speaks to what we do. As a play designer, advocate, enthusiast, or whatever... maybe you'd like to consider becoming a landscape architect... or encouraging others to enter our profession. It's a fun one!

Push to Play Playbook

Go Saskatchewan! (our owner went to high school in Saskatchewan). Here's a Saskatchewan Bluecross outfit trying to get information out there to get kids outside. The "Push to Play Playbook". Another resource...

Embracing Your Child's Weirdness

A fun blog post reminding us that we can't really impose our own (sometimes unintentionally limited) ideas of what play should be... Kids are the seasoned experts on play.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Unexpected Consequences of Ideas

We found this link to a brief write-up for the "honorable mention for innovation" of a recent playground design competition (click on its image below to be taken to this write-up).

As a landscape architect, I completely understand the concept of ideas and innovation when it comes to competitions. Without stretching boundaries, we don't move forward. But, I am also a very practical person and when I look at this and read about it, I feel a bit disappointed (but, please realize that design competitions can generally be a great source of disappointment). One of the important things that we are taught as landscape architects is that the imagery we present needs to reflect a possible reality. Otherwise, we are misleading our clients. The intent for this design entry was to use tires on a bamboo frame. In looking at the model they presented, let alone the recognized issue that bamboo wouldn't work for this... it does not reflect the true nature of tires.

I change the tires on my car. Tires are incredibly beefy things. They need to be since they support our vehicles. The first issue I saw with the model is where they are showing radii bends. It would be incredibly difficult to get tires under enough compression that the inner part of the tire would compress enough to allow the outer part to be snug against its neighbor. If you didn't do that, you would create a risk for entrapment for fingers, arms and legs. So, while captivating and beautiful... and as a starting point for a more successful version... this idea has some fairly obvious concerns.

Now... there's nothing wrong with flaws since they can lead to beautiful new solutions. But... this is a design meant for children in another country. If that country didn't have safety codes for playground equipment, it might be possible that this would be installed with those potential safety flaws. BUT... maybe there's nothing wrong with that!? I also believe that we need to find a healthier balance between the concepts of risk and hazard. Risk is healthy... hazard is not.

The idea as presented is a beautiful idea, and illustrates what I would call good and clever design for a play area. What I am theorizing on is the transition from good idea to good reality. Bamboo structure with tires on it is a great idea... but, would not work for the design they have shown. In our world... this is what would happen if we took this to a client:
  1. Month 1 - Us: Here's this fabulous idea! We can use local tires, with local materials for the structure. We don't think we need any complex fabrications, and can probably use local labor for it. Client: Awesome! This is great... the kids will love it.
  2. Month 2 - Us: We looked into it more, and we'll need to use a metal structure for it... but we've figured out how we can still have volunteers put the tires on. It will double the cost though. Client: Hmmm... well, it's still within our original budget... okay.
  3. Month 3 - Us: We just did a mock-up, and we can't get the tires on in a way that will preclude potential arm and leg entrapments. We have a way to fabricate the structure and modify the tires to achieve this though, but it will need to be professionally installed. It will double the cost again though. Client: Are you joking? Why didn't you do your research before we approved the idea? This will make us look like fools in front of our community advisory group? We can't take the risk or pay that much money.
  4. Month 4 - Client: We looked into it some more, and this playground manufacturer can sell and install a piece of composite play equipment for our original budget. We don't need your services any more.
While a dramatization... this is what can happen when we don't think ahead far enough to anticipate unexpected consequences (and/or partner with the experts who can help us do this). When we make mistakes as 'nature play' and 'adventure play' cheerleaders, it leads people back to the 'tried and true' world.

But... with that said, playground manufacturers have woken up and are developing better and better options for creating active and creative playspaces... but, that's for another post.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Gustavus School Playground

Chris just went to Gustavus to inspect the first phase for the development of the Gustavus School Playground. We completed design for this playground earlier in the summer, and the contractor is in the process of finishing up. The next phase will be the addition of a higher level of nature and adventure play. Gustavus parents and the community have a lot of excitement about what this playground has become, and what it WILL become still.

Let's start with the "before" pictures:

 And now... the AFTER pictures! 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Fantastic List of Funding Resources

Thanks to Gary Max at SiteLines for cluing us in on this great list of resources (compiled by GameTime) for funding opportunities aimed at play (click on the image):

Here is a direct link to one of the documents that they have available by request:

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Putting the Play in Playgrounds

A good article with Susan Herrington from the University of British Columbia: Putting the Play in Playgrounds

Friday, August 26, 2011

How Playgrounds Get (mis) used

A friend sent this video link to me, and it's a cringe-inducing one. These are international videos, so they show some equipment that wouldn't be available where we work (United States), but there are plenty of clips that show how kids can still manage to risk injury on a playground. Watching these is actually a pretty good way to reinforce some of what we've learned for play design: fall zones, the reason that some equipment isn't available any more, the need for some common sense... and perhaps the need for REALLY cushioned fall surfacing. Or at least piles of pillows around when people try these kinds of things.

In watching this, I think we'd all see at least one act that we either experienced personally... or saw in person. The minor ones are the kind of acts where we learn our own systems for understanding the balance of risk and benefit... or learning first-hand about gravity, centrifugal/centripetal force, Newton's laws of motion, etc...

Lastly... who would have thought that powering a merry-go-round with a motorcyle was a good idea? And then, how did they find friends who also thought it was a good idea to get onto the merry-go-round... (with the number of clips that show this... it's obviously a more common idea than I ever would have thought)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Friday, April 29, 2011

Grants for Youth and the Outdoors

We've added a new bar to the right where we will provide links for grants related to youth and children being outside and enjoying the things that outside has to offer. Please let us know about grants that we don't have listed yet!

Monday, March 21, 2011

New: Playscapes Forum

From the maker of the great Playscapes blog comes a forum for all sorts of related interaction. Have a look:
Playspaces Forum.

Snow Choreography

A neat project in Buffalo, where a faculty member was asked to develop choreography for a snow movement master plan (Front Park - An Olmsted Park). I really like how this is treating a landscape as a purely "winter designed" landscape. With pathways and mounds, this is an experience that you will only have in the winter. For how often landscapes are designed for the summer months (and hope for the best in the winter)... this is a refreshing paradigm shift. We also really like how this was modeled with what looks to be sugar.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Playspace Design Guide

A new revision to our "Playspace Ideas Guide":

Winnipeg Warming Huts - 2010 winners

These are the 2010 winners for this "Art  & Architecture Competition On Ice" where people are asked to design warming huts for this downtown river area in Winnipeg. Warming huts can make the difference between a fantastic day out skating (or otherwise enjoying the ice) and a miserable outing (nothing like having cold children). Add art and architecture, and you have something warm AND cerebral (or just pretty).

Marketing to feed the family...

This blog is definitely intended as a way for us to share interesting things that we find (and do) related to a fairly broad definition of play. We're landscape architects, so design work is how we feed our families... so, once in a while we'll be shameless and include material that focuses on us. We are a general landscape architectural and planning practice, but this is definitely one area we find to be rewarding (and fun!).

We'll be at the AEYC Early Childhoood Conference in Juneau tomorrow to listen and share... here are some boards that we put together for that:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Fur Rondy (and beyond) - Town Square

Anchorage is a Winter City. We have all of the same issues that other cities have when it comes to making our downtown alive and vibrant, plus the challenges of cold and dark. We need opportunities and events that can help us triumph against our urge to hibernate. This starts to get a bit easier at this time of year, when you can really feel the sunshine! Each day at the moment adds over five minutes to our days (over 35 minutes a week!). There's nothing like getting out and photosynthesizing.

One of our public spaces is adjacent to our Performing Arts Center - Town Square. This gets flooded in the winter for skating, and is the location for annual ice carving. Some people use it for skating during their lunch hours or other times of the day, but this space can really come alive when there are downtown events like Fur Rondy. The daytime photos below are from Fur Rondy, but the night time ones are from around Christmas a few months ago when they had just finished up the ice sculptures.
Clear and sunny... nothing better.
Strings of LED lights on all of the trees.
Fibre-optic lighting built-in for this reason.
Kids playing in a snow labyrinth.
Easter Island
Sundae = cold headache?
Fun lighting adding night-time interest.