Thursday, July 26, 2012

Taking Winter Seriously

In a previous post (What Winter Does to Play) we showed the changes that a playground goes through in the winter when we have a lot of snow (Eccles Elementary School Playground - Cordova, Alaska). After these photos were taken, a slightly older area of the playground actually saw the roof collapse over a covered play area. It reinforces how subject we are to mother nature, but also the responsibilities we take when we design play areas. The photos are courtesy of Gary Max of Gametime.
Some scale on the amount of snow.

Roof collapse.

A Love for Play

My grandfather was great at sitting down someplace and striking up a conversation with people that he didn't know. I think it was easy for him, because he recognized that everyone had something interesting to say. I never saw myself as being able to do that, whether shy or just not having the tools. As I've gotten older, I've gained some of that quality in that I love to hear from other people. No matter who you speak with, they will have something interesting to say, if only for the passion that they bring to it.

We've been working closely with Exerplay and Landscape Structures on the development of a partly customized playground in Anchorage, Alaska. From this coordination came the chance to meet Farrell Smith, the founder of Exerplay. From starting a chain of fish and chip stores (that had play equipment in them), to selling some play equipment during the early seventies play equipment renaissance, to even manufacturing some equipment at that time, to forming what is now Exerplay... it's a good story of finding something that you like and following it to see where it goes. I wouldn't have had this opportunity to speak with Farrell if I didn't also like this kind of work. That was a commonality for us.

I just put up photos of the St. Kilda Adventure Playground in a previous blog post. One of the things I remember from that was that it was inclusive of all ages. They provided places where parents could not only sit, but could interact with one another. In today's world, I think we need places where people are given the opportunity to interact. What comes to mind is that this is easy to do through at least two things: our pets, and our children. Both things that we love greatly. This not only brings us to the same place (dog park or playground), but it provides us with a common interest. When playgrounds are incorporated into active areas with additional draws to bring people in, then you begin to expand and mix... engaging a whole community. A picnic shelter, a barbeque, a chess table, a soccer field...

St. Kilda Adventure Playground - Interaction for All
As children, we met new friends on the playground. That's also where we as adults can meet and make new friends as well... at least if equipped with children. There are so many pressures on playgrounds for safety or "stranger danger" that not only do they become insular, but they also become unfriendly to people without children who are in the area. I know that as a landscape architect, I can feel pretty uncomfortable when I'm taking photos of playgrounds when I travel. The best photos have activity in them, but you feel kind of creepy doing that in today's world.

Anyways... I think the point of this is that as a designer, we need to take so many factors into consideration when we develop playgrounds. A good playground goes beyond play, and straight into the heart of what is community. Our goal is to create a place that is special to the community, and is inviting for the community to take ownership of it. This might be summarized by us wanting to encourage people to interact who might never have the opportunity in the first place. A place where someone can not only listen to other people's stories, but also tell their own.

St. Kilda Adventure Playground - Melbourne, Australia

I lived in Australia in 1998, and while there was a teaching assistant for a landscape architectural design class at RMIT. One of the outings that we had was to the St. Kilda Adventure Playground. This was a great opportunity for me to see what community directed play could look like. As a descendant of the Adventure Playground tradition, it's a sweet example of how fun play can be for everyone if the community is engaged to the level that they take ownership and responsibility. Not only responsibility for the development and repair of the playground, but for their actions and the actions of their children. With fun comes risk.

I've scanned my slide collection, and these are one of the things I stumbled upon. A recent article on this playground made me want to put them up here.