Category Archives: Design competitions

Philadelphia Freedom – Shine the Light on Play

In Philadelphia, the Smith Memorial Playground is a beacon. The space reverberates with tumultuous noise as kids high kick it into discovery mode. After more than a century, this place remains a play haven. However, the Smith oasis is not representative of play opportunities in public spaces throughout the city.

Art of Active Play_process3One of the many activities taking place during Philadelphia’s Play Space

Play Space, a partnership between the Community Design Collaborative and The Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children (DVAEYC), is pumping up the volume on the play dialogue. The kidcentric project is active with local and international communities exploring modalities of play that go beyond standardized spaces. This is no off the shelf, prefab play solutions operation.

Play Space‘s 18-month horizon got underway this summer with architect Alexa Bosse leading the project. She’s a program associate with Community Design Collaborative as well as a landscape architectural designer, longtime community volunteer and mother of 3 1/2 year old twins. Alexa has no shortage of reasons to get active and up the ante for play in Philadelphia.

Play Space logo with tagline

We’re helping to bring the value of play to the forefront and underline how much it’s really needed especially in a city where many people don’t have access to a lot of outdoor space.

Alexa Bosse – Manager, Play Space

Play Space is part of Infill Philadelphia which engages innovative design in the revitalization of neighbourhoods. Over the course of the program there is a lecture series, a youth build with playable structures as well as work with educators and home-based child care centres.

Accessible play makes for better communities and stronger families.

Alexa Bosse

Alexa is most enthusiastic about the design competition that will benefit three public agencies – a library, a school and the city’s parks and recreation branch. Although the USA has significant design restrictions, many associated with safety concerns, the dialogue that Play Space is leading is making inroads. With special friends like author Susan Solomon and filmmaker Erin Davis, who screened her documentary The Land, helping to spur the conversation, alternative visions of play spaces are gaining more currency.

Art of Active Play - Balancing Act - Smith PlaygroundBalancing Act, Art of Active Play – Smith Playground

In fact, decision makers from the public agencies were initially very prescriptive in their directions. They have now relaxed the prescriptive directions in the interest of encouraging creativity and attracting a wide range of design teams to the competition. Alexa hopes that the result of this opening up will be finding a balance that emphasizes creativity and innovation while challenging people’s thinking about what a play space can be in an urban landscape. The best case scenario is that the design competition attracts models that can be replicated or adapted for other sites.

My hope is that we’ll attract some international interest in the design competition. We’re so ready for it.

Alexa Bosse

Competition open until November 30

All the information required to enter is here.

Nota: one member of the team must be a licensed professional – architect, landscape architect, or engineer – in the country in which they are practicing. Although not a requirement, Play Space is encouraging multi-disciplinary teams that draw on the knowledge and experience of educators, parents, psychologists and others with a close connection to children.

For Alexa, the Play Space objectives present a winning scenario for a city that is welcoming back millennials with young families.

  1. Encourage innovative design
  2. Improve access
  3. Promote dialogue and collaboration
  4. Build Awareness
  5. Provide prototypical design solutions

While we wait in anticipation for the results of the design competition, let’s turn the clock back to some images of Philadelphia play spaces from the 1950s and 60s. Click on the image below, or its cutline for a selection of vintage play sourced at the Philly History photo archives.

Philly 10Youngsters frolic on the igloo climbers at the Pennypack Playground, Philadelphia – 1958

PlaygroundIDEAS – Habitats for Play

Let’s make a rolling wave of applause as PlaygroundIDEAS launches its 150 Days of Play campaign to celebrate providing 150 high quality, low cost playground designs in an open source catalogue. Each day for the next 150 days they will feature a design a day from the design library on the Playground Ideas blog along with examples of how they have been used around the world.


Even though I’m an early riser and start writing in the small hours of the morning, Marcus and the crowd at PlaygroundIDEAS’ Melbourne, Australia home base have got us beat. They’re more than half a day ahead.

As I pen this draft they’re just about ready to grab some Monday lunch. Their news about the 150 free designs (up from 80 one year ago) has been rippling around the world for hours at the speed of play. As I finally push ‘publish’ around 6 Monday morning, supper will be long done in Melbourne.

If you’re not familiar with this international not-for-profit, you’re in for a treat. I immediately fell in love with PlaygroundIDEAS when I first stumbled across them online shortly after getting PlayGroundology up and running.

CDC pan 5

They’re distinctive for a variety of reasons not least of which is how the work they do helps light up the faces of disadvantaged kids in communities in Asia, South America and Africa. Then of course, there is the inventiveness and simplicity of the playgrounds and individual play elements in and of themselves, a cross between tire recycling heaven and adventure playgrounds.

hway ka loak pan

There is also a great grassroots beat coursing through the work that PlaygroundIDEAS is doing with, and on behalf of, kids and play. I heard this firsthand when I interviewed founder and CEO Marcus Veerman a couple of years ago just as he was preparing for one of his first trips to East Africa. With the assistance of international volunteers and funders they help communities and schools make dedicated space for play a reality.

One of their more recent projects involves a playscape for a school in Kenya. A multi station obstacle course is very popular with the kids.


“…the playground is a motivation for kids to come to school, in fact it becomes very hard to get them out of school in the evenings after classes because they want to remain behind and play.”


The scope of the Ruben Centre project in Nairobi is huge and includes football fields, the obstacle course, a geodesic dome made from scrap pipe, a giant see-saw airplane and more. Click through for the story of this primary school with 2,000 kids that now has a rockin’ playground.

Another outstanding characteristic of PlaygroundIDEAS is its use of technology. For the playgrounds and play elements much of the source material is recycled (think tires) and locally available. The building technology is scaled to the environment, primarily people powered and does not rely on large machinery. Then there is the savvy tech use of the interweb to share stories, photos and designs, to build community, recruit volunteers and attract funders.

It’s a pretty complete package. If I could pack up the family tomorrow to volunteer on a build somewhere in this wide world, I’d be looking to Marcus and PlaygroundIDEAS to point me in the right direction.


As part of the 150 Days of Play celebration, PlaygroundIDEAS is hosting two design competitions for creating new elements for the library, one for kid designers and one for adults. Stay tuned to the PlaygroundIDEAS blog for details.

Thanks to Marcus, Elizabeth, the rest of the gang at PlaygroundIDEAS HQ, all the volunteers and funders for making a difference and helping to make the world a better place for kids.

Today is World Habitat Day, celebrated the first Monday in October since 1986. UN Habitat tags it ‘For A Better Urban Future’. Every human habitat should make provision for children’s play. What a great day for PlaygroundIDEAS to launch 150 Days of Play. Listen for the laughter, look for the smiles and you’ll know kids are playing.

All photos and images sourced from PlaygroundIDEAS.