Category Archives: Denmark

Shhhh…. Aarhus Secret Club Adventures

Ed.’s note – Earlier this fall, PlayGroundology got a note from Kenn Munk about a temporary play space in Aarhus, Denmark. ‘The Wildness’ opened over the fall school break and was free for all who wanted to attend. The project, part of a ‘secret club‘ for kids that has been in existence for the past 10 years, was supported by Aarhus’ Børnekulturhuset, or Children’s Culture House. What follows is Kenn’s lightly edited description of ‘The Wildness’.

 

Setting sail for adventure in Aarhus’ Vildskaben

The playground was inspired by the original 1940s junk playgrounds in Denmark and Great Britain, but with a few twists added. In a secret club, we treat play as an art form, so our take on the junk/adventure playground would be a bit different – we never want to paint a picture that has already been painted, to stick to the art analogy. Our adventure playground was called ‘The Wildness’. (Vildskaben in Danish – with the added bonus that ‘skaben‘ can be interpreted as ‘creation’).

In our work, we often subtly hint at a story that participants then can take in any direction they want. Annabelle Nielsen and I see ourselves as artists. We are self-employed and the ‘secret club’ is our full time job. In this project, we combined the practicalities of telling people about the risks and hazards of the play space with inviting them into a magical place using a grey-clad masked guard. 

The guard told them the basics they needed to know and also helped them decide on their mystic sign. This sign would be their name in Vildskaben. They would paint it on the fence around the playground. It was the first thing they did. Once the signs were created and they had familiarized themselves with some tools and materials, they could do whatever they wanted.

Signs and symbols

With all its dangers and wonders, campfire smell, old furniture and half-rotten pallets and logs, we (the adults) had envisioned The Wildness as ‘a shanty-town of magic users’. It was the story we were hinting at. We never told the participants about this vision, but they picked it up naturally from the visual clues, like the mystic symbols, and the actual magic of the camera obscura we had made from a small hut hidden in the back.

We learned how important it was to spend time on roofs and that people are perfectly capable of not getting hurt.

 

Pick a hammer

Once inside, the kids could pick up tools and supplies from the tool shed. Building materials were also around this area. At the tool shed, there was also additional information about how everyone was allowed to change what others had built, unless it had been marked with a black cross. A black cross meant that the builder had plans to return and continue building. The ‘black cross’ idea was abandoned as the playground equivalent of an edit war was more interesting. The tool shed was also the place were they could claim prizes from hidden tickets they would find around the area.

Creation all sorts

The grounds used to belong to the scouts, and when we went through the piles of wood, we found treasure upon treasure – oddly shaped pieces of wood and even a small cast-iron oven was found under the wood pile. The place overflowed with serendipity. We often take inspiration from psychogeography and hauntology and the grounds very much inspired the project. This wasn’t place-making, this was working with the cues the place gave us such as the found oven.

Families really took to ‘The Wildness’ and it was free for anyone to use.  Some kids and families came back two or three times over the week. We only saw people whip out their phones to take pictures.

‘The Wildness’

Some of the materials were already there. The rest we scavenged from the streets. We often work with found materials, not just for environmental reasons, but mostly because these things come with a history that will inform what you will be doing with them. It’s strange that old furniture, building materials and such are seen as a problem rather than as a resource.

We made it clear that destruction was allowed, kids enjoyed prying off boards from the fence. The destructive aspect of making was very, very important to us. There was no need for insurance.

We didn’t need insurance, the guard made people take responsibility for their own lives by making them sign a form – this was right before he asked them to throw wet blobs of toilet paper at a target…

Beware the guard

The space is now closed and is slated to be turned into a park. We hope to be able to let it all grow over and fall apart for a few months and then briefly re-open in spring.

Kenn Munk and one of the kids at ‘The Wildness’

Art and play are frequent companions. Another great Danish example is Copenhagen’s Amager Ark.

Do you have a favourite play experience or play setting you’d like to share? Get in touch with PlayGroundology through the Contact page. We’d love to hear from you.

 

Playground Manufacturer Wins Top Honours at National Design Show

It’s not everyday that a playground manufacturer wins a major design award. In fact, I don’t know if it has ever happened before. That’s exactly what transpired last week for Danish firm KOMPAN at the Australian International Design Awards show in Melbourne.

Sydney Morning Herald, July 22

Really. who’d a thunk it – a playground manufacturer runs away with the hardware against the best of the rest. KOMPAN’s ICON playground, a hybrid of high tech gaming and old fashioned muscle twitching, won the Design Award of the Year. On top of that, they were also recognized as the Best in Category for Sports and Leisure. The company’s promotional video features playgrounder-gamers who certainly look like they’re having fun. I know that I’d be checking it out if there were one near Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Australia’s first ICON was installed at the newly opened Robelle Domain in Springfield, Queensland. It is anticipated that other local governments will soon be fitting up with KOMPAN’s ICON.

Bravo to KOMPAN on this singular recognition.

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 here and here

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

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.