Category Archives: Amager Island

Setting Sail for Play

Life of Pi - The PrequelShip’s Company from the Adventure Playground series. Photo credit – John Drysdale, circa 1960s. Source – Victoria and Albert Museum

Boats exude an elemental mystery. Fresh water, or briny sea they hold the promise of adventure and discovery. Whether in wavy tossed expanse or landlocked far from shore they are dream makers for voyagers young and old.

19579885394_0570494a89_k(1)Merseyside’s Black Pearl (story here), New Brighton, UK. Photo credit – Pete Birkinshaw, (CC BY 2.0)

Although I have no empirical evidence, I will hazard a guess and suggest that boats are among the top three transportation modes represented in play spaces around the world. The two others include the space class – rockets, shuttles, etc. and cars.

DSC09555Jubilee Park, Bridgetown, Nova Scotia.

Playground boats range in size from the small dory that graces the banner of the PlayGroundology FB page to the larger than life Amager Ark which is part of the Himmelhøj play artscape on Amager Island in Copenhagen

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAmager Ark – Himmelhøj, Copenhagen. Photo credit – by the artist Alfio Bonanno.

In Canada’s Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence there is a recurring boat motif in playscapes throughout the archipelago. They are favourites with our kids whenever we visit and have a deep rooted connection to the people and the place.

DSC07548L’Étang du Nord, Cap-aux-Meules, Magdalen Islands.

Running across decks, scrambling up ropes, hiding in holds are activities for young sailors, captains, deckhands, swabs, pirates, fishermen, explorers, or warriors as they set off on an adventurous round of play.

In Halifax, PlayGroundology’s home port, we have a number of boat play spaces and even a submarine. Our iconic boat, a trawler by the name of Halcyon, was retired a few years back after more than 25 years of service in the name of fun. The video below is a short tribute to busy play days on the boat with our daughter Nellie-Rose, in her younger years, leading the charge.

Boats for Play I and Boats for Play II are flickr galleries with photos of boat playgrounds around the world. Does your community have any boat playscapes? If so, post some photos on PlayGroundology FB.

Boats are in my blood. My father and grandfather both worked in the shipyards on the River Clyde in Scotland. My grandfather was an avid model yachtsman and as I write this I look up at one of the trophies he was awarded – The Port Glasgow Model Yacht Club’s Tosh Memorial Shield which his boat the Fairy won in 1952.

As a young adult in the 1970s I had the opportunity to work on board two Canadian Coast Guard ships, an icebreaker in the Arctic and a buoy boat around Nova Scotia’s shores – quite an adventure for a lad of 16. All that to say that I do love a boat playground. You can pipe me on board anytime…

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Bonne fête, Feliz navidad, Happy Birthday, Barka da sabon shekera, Rā Whānau ki a Koe!

It’s a little hard to believe that the first PlayGroundology post, Manhattan’s Bronze Guy, was published five years ago. Based on an interview with American artist Tom Otterness, it features his limited edition sculpture, Playground, which had caught my eye before the Colorado version of the piece adorned Google as a background image.

70179_600x357Playground by Tom Otterness – Google background image. Photo credit – Dick Jackson

Since then, play has become my volunteer vocation much to the delight of our three young kids aged 9, 7 and 5. Along the way, the PlayGroundology blog has won a couple of Canadian blogging awards and racked up readership from over 160 countries. More importantly though, I have had the opportunity to become long distance friends, and in some cases meet, with fine ‘play’ people from Scotland, England the US, Canada, Ghana, Singapore, Japan, Australia and elsewhere.

DSC06210London’s Glamis Adventure Playground from Mark Halden’s presentation at Play Summit in Glasgow, Scotland – April, 2014.

Among the many things that continue to strike me is that this world of play is broad, deep and inter-connected. Passionate parents, educators, professionals in health services, public administration and child care, practitioners, researchers, designers, landscape architects and lay people are amongst the stewards and advocates for children’s inalienable right to play.

Also in that first year, who knew there would be an opportunity to be Going Philatelic in Singapore? Connecting with Justin Zhang for that post resulted in a follow up a couple of years later when his e-book with photography and writing on these culturally attuned playscapes were featured in the blog.

3991913517_4f4a2cf01f_bDragon playground, Singapore. Photo credit – Jerry Wong. License: (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I continue to find joy in sharing public playspaces that break the mould, that boldly present alternatives, speak to place and do not shy away from risk. Early in year two, Alfio Bonanno’s Himmelhøj (Sky High) located on Copenhagen’s Amager Island came to my attention. It is a playspace of place, elemental in a natural setting even in its proximity to urban development.

Alfio Bonnano - CopenhagenThe Amager Ark. Photo courtesy of the artist, Alfio Bonanno

In year three, I discovered Pierre Szkéley and his love of cement. The architect used it to great effect in a number of sculpted playgrounds in France dating back to the 1950s. There is a certain je ne sais quoi about the work, a sense of future forms creating a new physical narrative for kids to explore.

szekelyhay00Pierre Székely’s L’Haÿ-les-Roses, 1958. Photo credit – As-tu dèja oublié?

PlayGroundology’s fourth year continued to explore the intersection of art and play in posts that examined Ann Hamilton’s the event of a thread and Jason Richardson’s Australian playground music – transforming playground equipment into instruments…

Many SwingsPhoto credit – James Ewing. Source – Park Avenue Armory

In PlayGroundology’s fifth year, I fell in love with ‘loose parts’ thanks to friends at Pop-Up Adventure Play, Brendon P. Hyndman’s research in an Australian primary school and the wonderful people at Nova Scotia’s Youth Running Series who provided me with the chance to run my first public play event – oh it was intoxicating…..

loose partsLoose Parts – Nova Scotia Youth Running Series

The blog continues to afford an endless journey of discovery – meeting people, admiring design, becoming familiar with the rudiments of play theory, developing public play activities and of course, playing. I’ve learned that play is under duress in countries around the world including the post-industrial economies. I’ve met with great generosity of spirit and experienced passionate engagement on behalf of kids with play people players of many nationalities. It seems there is a renaissance of play underway with resilience and risk advancing in tandem. Play matters…

I want to thank PlayGroundology’s readers for your comments, kind words, story ideas. I plan to be sharing stories of great play happenings for another five years and hope you’ll be able to join in.

5 Cool Ones

Cool is in the eye of the beholder – no common currency, no standard to overlay. Since PlayGroundology’s beginnings in January 2010, I’ve come across a number of what I consider ‘cool’ playgrounds. My kids have seen photos of all of these places and without exception it’s the same question that leaps from their lips – can we go there? And that in a nutshell, as my Mom would say, is one of my primary litmus tests for cool.

So, here is PlayGroundology’s inaugural installment of 5 Cool Ones. They appear in no particular order. The beauty is that there are hundreds more out there waiting to be discovered. That is my dream job – exploring the playgrounds of the world with my family while meeting the kids who play there, the parents who take them and the people who design them. If you ever see this opportunity posted anywhere, please give me a call.

Salamander Playground – Montreal, Canada

Salamander Playground, Aerial View – Montreal, Canada.
Photo Credit – Marc Cramer

The design, equipment and feel here are reminiscent of some playgrounds in western Europe – flickr slideshow. That’s fitting as Montreal is a bustling cosmopolitan city that evokes the old country. There is lots of climbing, spinning, swinging and getting wet. All of this and more in the beautiful setting of Mount Royal Park close to the heart of Montreal’s urban core. More about Salamander Playground here

Miners’ Playground – Chuquicamata, Chile

Chuquicamata Playground, Chile
Photo Credit – Carlos Borlone Leuquén aka Mi otra carne in flickrville

Otherworldly with a touch of the surreal describes some unique play structures that sit quietly in Chuquicamata, a former mining town in northern Chile. Located in the Atacama desert, the most arid on the planet, Chuqui is encircled by foothills of slag and tailings from nearly 100 years of mineral exploitation.

Chuquicamata Playground flickr gallery here.

Himmelhøj – Copenhagen, Denmark

Amager Ark, Copenhagen, Denmark
Photo Credit – Alfio Bonanno

In Copenhagen, tucked away on Amager Island’s southwestern reaches, is a landlocked boat. It seems to have materialized from some distant time and place. The Amager Ark is one component of Bonanno’s Himmelhøj (Sky High), a four piece installation commissioned by the Danish Ministry of the Environment.

Himmelhøj photosets here and here.

Playground – New York City, USA

Playground – Tom Otterness
Photo credit – Marilyn K. Yee, The New York Times

Playground, a Tom Otterness sculpture cum anthropomorphic architecture, cum dreamy play area is a reclining behemoth. The gentle giant is a whirl of fun and fancy, an open invitation for children to play and for adults to rekindle a spark of childlike wonderment. The New York City iteration of the limited edition series is nestled between One River Place and Silver Towers on West 42nd St. between 11th and 12th Avenues, not too far from the Hudson River in Manhattan. Read more here on this one of a kind New York City play sculpture.

Eden Project – Cornwall, England

Oaken Log – Touch Wood Enterprises
Photo courtesy Touchwood Enterprises

Over a period of ten years, the Eden Project in Cornwall, England has transformed a disused clay mine into a lush and fertile oasis. Environmental, educational and cultural discoveries are the heartbeat of this wonderland.

The Eden Project also has a massive section of oak trunk that serves as a rustic play station. The trunk comes from an oak that fell naturally and was then hollowed and sandblasted by Touch Wood Enterprises Ltd.

Eden Log photoset here

Keep in mind that the sample size for these cool playgrounds is very small. There are so many great designers and interesting playscapes out there. If you know a cool playground you’d like to share, send a photo(s) of it, its name and location to playgroundolgy@gmail.com for a future post.

Himmelhøj – Sky High – Copenhagen, Denmark

Since he was a young boy growing up in his adopted Australia, Alfio Bonanno knew he wanted to be an artist. At the age of 14, with the full support of his Italian family, he embarked on his apprenticeship in art. From the outset, he was drawn to the materials and the look of the natural world. He’s been on a global walkabout ever since.

I’ve been working with nature installations and natural materials all my life. I grew up in the tropical rainforest of Queensland, Australia. The relationship with nature has always been very important to me. – Alfio Bonanno

From his home base on Denmark’s Langeland Island, he has conceived a distinctive body of site specific work, a prolonged love affair with landscapes and natural materials. His signature installations are peppered across the planet in Asia, Australia, Europe and North America.

In Copenhagen, tucked away on Amager Island’s southwestern reaches, is a landlocked boat. It seems to have materialized from some distant time and place. The Amager Ark is one component of Bonanno’s Himmelhøj (Sky High), a four piece installation commissioned by the Danish Ministry of the Environment.

There is a touch of wildness here. Occasionally, deer can be found grazing in the overgrown grass. Sometimes large puddles collect on the ground’s surface. They act as mirrors reflecting earth and sky until the water is slowly absorbed by the clay strata beneath. We can almost believe that the 60 metre oaken vessel might be floated away with a crew of children at the helm. In reality, civilization is encroaching on this playful enclave. Himmelhøj is just over a 10 minute walk from the West Amager metro station.


Additional Photos

Bonanno’s art is not exclusively focused on children (see his CO2 cube) but he does draw on over 30 years of work creating multimedia projects with school age kids. He has hit the right note with Himmelhøj. Since opening in 2004, it has become a popular destination for families and school groups. It has also been in the running for the most popular playground in Copenhagen.

People are very positive about the installation because they can use it. It’s not complicated, it’s integrated into the landscape and it opens people up to the beauty of the materials. – Alfio Bonanno

For Bonanno, Himmelhøj goes far beyond the traditional concept of playgrounds. It is an installation where young and old alike can get involved visually, physically and mentally. It’s an area to experience, a space to stimulate the imagination.

Himmelhøj is a tactile wonderland of wood, stone and earth on the edge of the city’s steel, concrete and glass. Activities here are rooted in the natural world. Kids scrabble over the mound of rocks inside the Ark, explore the interior of the oh so tall Insect Forest’s circular thicket and warm themselves in the glow of the giant hearth. And what of the nest perched in a tree large enough for a giant weaver bird, large enough to welcome kids attracted to the challenge of a good climb?


Insect Forest – Planning Stages
Click for slideshow.

When you create interesting forms and put them in the landscape, they get used and inspire people to play around them. I also hope that maybe we can get parents and grown ups to get back to how they were earlier as kids, get inspired and loosen up a little bit. – Alfio Bonanno

The intallation is helping the area take on a new identity. The structures provide a base that kids can build on. Imaginations are set free to create stories, games and adventures. You can read some of the artist’s thoughts on Himmelhøj here.

There is no admittance fee to Himmelhøj and it’s open 24 hours a day. Under the cover of darkness there have been problems with vandalism. Planks have been ripped off the Amager Ark and burned and other pieces of the installation broken. Fortunately this activity has been isolated and has not had a serious impact.

Although he works almost exclusively with organic materials in natural surroundings, Bonanno is not a purist when it comes to play. He has seen some of the new computerized playgrounds and understands their potential in terms of encouraging kids to get active using a technology that is frequently a defining cause of their physical inactivity and sedentary behaviour.

He also believes that even playgrounds at the top of their game – those that are incredible in concept and design and are challenging for kids – will only have a negligible impact unless Denmark’s schools undergo significant reform. From his perspective, the schools are not stimulating at all and kids are losing their lives inside them.

I refuse to even so much as talk about doing an exciting playground beside a school when the school itself needs to be lifted up into another dimension. It’s like putting a plaster on the sore but not really coping with the problem. – Alfio Bonanno

So for now, if you’re lucky enough to be in Copenhagen, Himmelhøj is really the place to go if you’re interested in tracking down an original play experience. I know that I will be adding Bonanno’s installation to the growing list of playscapes that I hope to get to play at one day with my kids.

Thanks so much to flickr’s seier + seier where I saw my first image of the Amager Ark. Thanks too to Alfio who took my call in the midst of putting together a new project and preparing for a big trip off the continent.


seier + seier
Creative Commons – Attribution 2.0 Generic

I hope we’ll hear and see more from Bonanno in the future. Who knows maybe he’ll be coming to a city, or a country near you. In the meantime, here’s an interview that will give you a greater appreciation for his outlook – In Nature’s Eyes.

Enjoy Google’s bird’s eye view.