Category Archives: Mount Royal Park

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.

Go Tell it on the Mountain – Montréal’s Salamander Playground

There’s shade on the mountain and sometimes a soft silky breeze blows a refreshing kiss. These are welcome blessings in one of North America’s finest festival cities where summer’s sticky drip calls out for relief and release. If the kids are not already hot enough, they can work up some steam and then cool down at a new playground opened in 2009 in Montréal’s Mount Royal Park.

In the splash, paddle and run zone, timed jets of water arc into the air from embedded nozzles and a watery film gently bathes a stationary orb. The playground flows through a dip in a small glade in an unhurried meander. Bordered on one side by a sweep of trees, it then opens onto a modest plain lush with grass and shade.

A bird’s eye view shows that the playground’s outline takes the form of a stylized salamander. Two black climbing rocks serve as the amphibian’s eyes and four play zones are housed in the front and rear footprints. This representation pays tribute to the blue spotted salamander a native species that finds some respite in this green urban oasis where it is on a protected list.

The equipment here is atypical. If it isn’t flash-of-fun, kid powered motion, then the kids have to scrabble over, through, or around it. The architecture, landscape and urban design firm CHA (Cardinal Hardy) did their homework sourcing the material for this playscape. Some pieces like the tilted spinning platter originate in Germany. Others, like the orbular fountain, were created by CHA’s Bao-Chau Nguyen who also designed the rustic log benches. The black shine meteoric rocks were tracked down in California. The result is a unique play experience, a blend of climbing, whirling, balancing and spinning far from the city’s madding crowds and traffic.

Click for slide show

Aside from the exquisite location, it is the equipment and its thoughtful placement that really sets this playground apart. Getting just the right mix was an important objective.

“We wanted things that kids could say, ‘oh, that’s different, what can I do with this?’ It wasn’t the regular slides, or swings that we were looking for. We were really after pieces that could be used in multiple ways encouraging discovery and a little experimentation. The spinning platter is a good example. You can sit on it, walk on it, lay flat on your belly.” – Isabelle Giasson, CHA Project Manager

As with all new development in the Park, this project had to be sensitive to the already existing landscapes as envisioned in the 19th century by the granddaddy of urban green space designers, Frederic Olmsted. In comparison with the riotous colours of the 1960s era playspace that preceded it, Salamander playground is a study in muted, minimalist tones of silver, blue and black and softly curving contemporary shapings.

In addition to high performance equipment and a design that mimics the natural flow of vertical and horizontal axes, Salamander Playground features another distinguishing element. Embedded in the pathways and benches throughout the playground are images and excerpts of text that tell the story of the Conventions on the Rights of the Child as elaborated and promoted by UNICEF.

Article 6 (Survival and development): Children have the right to live. Governments should ensure that children survive and develop healthily. The Convention on the Rights of the Child

This is the first public space in the world where images and text have been used side by side to tell the story of children’s rights. The images by artist Gérard Dansereau temper the seriousness of the message with a breath of lightness, splashes of colour and an invitation to play. Montréal now joins Massongex, Switzerland and Luxembourg as cities with Rights of the Child commemorative paths.

The Salamander Playground and the Path for Children’s Rights were officially opened on May 25, 2009 at a combined cost of $2.2 million. In 2010, CHA were presented with a Regional Merit Award for this project by the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects.

This playscape has rapidly become a destination for Montréalers. Two visits were not enough for me. I’m looking forward to my next trek up the mountain perhaps in the summer of 2011. Maybe this time I’ll get up enough nerve to dash through the fountains and try out some of the equipment myself – a little adult playground therapy. What are we grown-ups to do, is it just vicarious fun for us?

If you visit on a Sunday from May through September check out the free drumming fest from noon to dusk. This is truly tam-tam a go-go.

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All photos by A. Smith with the exception of aerial Salamander Playground shot by Marc Cramer.