Category Archives: Pierre Székely

We’re Goin’ on a Playground Hunt – We’re Gonna Catch a Big One (in Paris)

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Papa and I are up early to make the most of our last full day in the City of Heat. We’re getting prepared for a day of urban trekking. First order of business – sustenance. We head to our regular spot at the corner of Voltaire and Charonne after grabbing a couple of croissants each at the boulangerie across the street. The café au lait at l’Ingénu is just the fuel we need before the morning’s expedition to l’Haÿ-les-Roses gets underway.

We’re goin’ on a playground hunt, we’re gonna catch a big one. Yes, three days in Paris and we’re spending half a day on a quest for a 1950s playscape designed by Franco-Hungarian, Pierre Székely. Can you guess whose idea this is? Papa is very good natured about it and curious too. All we’ve got are screen captures of Google satellite and map views to try and find it. Oops, not as well prepared as I could be several thousand kilometres from home.

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I guess we aren’t exactly the standard father and son duo off on a play adventure. As often as we’d done this in the past, at 80 and 57 respectively, we are a tad out of practice with the old roles. But it turns out that love and the pursuit of play are ageless.

We grab the Métro at Charonne, our home station in the 11e arrondissement, and slip over to Nation. I pull us up street side here for a few minutes to see the two huge 100′ high doric columns each topped with a king. They made quite an impression on me from the days we lived in Paris nearly 45 years ago.

As we make our way around the square, we encounter three kids in a spontaneous burst of play. Already the temperature is heat waving its way to 40ºC. Partially hidden from their dad’s view, the kids are running, dancing, jumping through a sprinkler. They’re happy as he continues to chat on the sidewalk. Each moment is an extension of freedom – getting soaked one drop at a time in this small patch of green.

From Nation we do the underground zip to the end of the line at Ville Juif. Nobody we ask there is familiar with the street names that encircle the playscape. Why should they be? It’s about 2 kilometres away from the station. But really, can you believe it – Rue de la Reine Blanche runs along the perimeter of our treasure? I was beginning to think it was all Alice in Wonderland. I’m ready to throw in the towel but that’s not in papa’s plans – no playgrounds left behind….

We do get some pointers from staff in a café and transit drivers. They set us out in the right direction to L’Haÿ-les-Roses. Once there it’s a like a game of hot and cold. Seemingly we move quickly in and out of range with people looking at us like we’re aliens or saying yes it sounds familar and is somewhere nearby. Two women, a cashier in the post office and young mom pushing her child in stroller, send us straight to the mother lode.

This is what it looks like nearly 60 years down the road.

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What treasures to discover – texture, form, space and Yves Le Thuaut who saved the playground from demolition and is now working with others to restore it. See the photos and videos including yours truly going down ‘le toboggan’ – the slide and not ripping my shorts. It’s right here on Storehouse – 96 degress in the shade: playgroundin’ in tropical Paris. See la gruyère, le labyrinthe, les escaliers, les vagues, les pataugeoires et le corne de brume.

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Truly a successful playground hunt though it must be said I couldn’t get over it, under it, through it. In fact I just wanted to be in it.

Thanks to the as-tu déjà oublié? crew for introducing me to Székely.

Thanks to you for checking in – cheers from Canada’s far east…….

PlayGroundology’s on Cloud Nine

PlayGroundology has just wrapped its third year of blogging about the world of play and playgrounds. Following are nine posts that readers found popular. If you didn’t see them first time around, I hope you’ll take a moment to sample two, or three. If you like them, share with others – play never has a best before date. Happy playing and thanks for reading PlayGroundology!

Sculpted in France – Concrete Art Playgrounds

Photo credit: J. Bruchet. Source: Architectures de cartes postales. Designer: Pierre Székely. Cité des Jeux – L’Haÿ-les-Roses, France

I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for France so I’m always on the lookout for interesting play stories from that part of the world. Our family lived there in the early 70s. I was 12 when we arrived and 15 when we left. It was my gawky early adolescent phase which I like to think I’ve outgrown. (more…)

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Just Play

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Just Play

play play
whether it’s alone or with friends
within four walls or under a great canvas of sky
just play

there are not enough hours
in a heartful life
to miss kaleidoscoping fun (more…)

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The Playground Paradise Principle

Paradise might be a bit of a stretch but Malmö, Sweden is quite simply playgroundalicious. It’s the kind of place that would inspire Mary Poppins to gather her young charges around her and umbrella them off to adventure – up through the atmosphere/ up where the air is clear/ let’s all/ go to Malmö. (more…)

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London’s Somerford Grove Adventure Playground Makes The New York Times Magazine

Source: Haringey Play Association. Click image to enlarge

There are four stunning, brilliant images in the March 1 edition of the The New York Times Magazine offering glimpses of children at the Somerford Grove Adventure Playground in London, England. (more…)

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A Journey of Epic Proportions

How do you spice up your morning commute to work and at the same time make it more meaningful? Look no further than my friend Chris Gregory for an answer. Chris is a champion for play at the Isle of Man’s leading children’s charity The Children’s Centre. To raise awareness for outdoor play and safe and playful routes for children, he is taking a different means of self propelled transport every workday for the month of March. His epic journey started out with a 3 kilometer spacehopper commute. Do I hear sore thighs? (more…) Note, Chris is in training for his second run at March 2 Work.

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Imagining a Better Future – Playtime in Africa

Source: Mmofra Foundation. Click image to enlarge

Two acres of green space in the Dzorwulu neighbourhood of Accra, Ghana are being primed for transformation. It’s all about the kids, or Mmofra as they are called in Ghana’s Akan language.

This story, about a small plot of land, spans decades, continents and generations. It’s the story of a woman’s vision, of her love for children. The seeds were sown 50 years ago when the late Efua Sutherland wrote her groundbreaking book on Ghana’s play culture, Playtime in Africa. The narrative and accompanying photographs by Willis E. Bell were the first real documentation of children’s play in the newly independent African nation. (more…)

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Sir Ken of TEDalot on Play and Learning

Earlier this spring, Sir Ken (Robinson) shared his views on education with an appreciative audience in Halifax, Nova Scotia – home of PlayGroundology. I was one of the 1,000 in attendance who enjoyed an accomplished and entertaining critic of conventional wisdom about education and creativity. No props, no notes, plenty of humourous asides and always an à propos anecdote. (more…)

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Have You Heard What They’re Saying About RISK? Listen Then Share

Generally speaking, parents want their kids to experience the fullness of the world – the quiet beauty, the dizzying adventure, the discovery of self and others. As much as possible we want to keep hurt and injury at bay but they too are part of the mix with cuts, scrapes and breaks both corporeal and psychological. So how do we go about assessing risk? How do we ensure that our kids aren’t enclosed in a cocoon of safety?

I saw this video a couple of nights ago and thought I would play a small role in helping to spread the word. Right now it’s at 373 views. After you’ve watched it, please share with your friends and your broader network.

Thanks to the Alliance for Childhood and KaBOOM! for producing this piece.

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The Unbearable Lightness of Swinging

There’s something cosmic about swinging, a certain je ne sais quoi. When I saw Teena Marie Fancey’s Baby Boy at The Craig Gallery on Dartmouth, Nova Scotia’s waterfront a couple of years ago, I knew I had found a great opening image for a paean to swings. Thanks Teena. (more…)

Sculpted in France – Concrete Art Playgrounds

I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for France so I’m always on the lookout for interesting play stories from that part of the world. Our family lived there in the early 70s. I was 12 when we arrived and 15 when we left. It was my gawky early adolescent phase which I like to think I’ve outgrown.

Playgrounds were not a big attraction for me back then – a good thing probably as I don’t recall seeing many of them in the towns or cities where we lived. I was more consumed with soccer, rugby and girls. Who knew you got to give and receive des bises at almost each encounter with girls? One little kiss on each cheek… What a revelation for a wee anglo lad from Toronto. Initially I was a little hesitant but it wasn’t long before I reveled in that custom.

But back to play for the younger set. Even though I did’t see much evidence of them, there were indeed playgrounds in France. Perhaps they were just not as prevalent as they were in North America during the same period. I did come across some actual evidence of original playground design dating back to the late 50s and early 60s just the other day on a couple of French blogs. The designer in question is Pierre Székely who created playful forms out of industrial concrete.

Photo credit: J. Bruchet. Source: Architectures de cartes postales. Designer: Pierre Székely. Cité des Jeux – L’Haÿ-les-Roses, France

Székely was born in Budapest and made his way to France in the post war years. A sculptor, architect, graphic artist and playground designer, his work and play can be found in public spaces and museums throughout France and numerous other countries.

Stockholm’s public art for children inspired Székely’s approach to playgrounds. In the late 1950s he wrote:

It’s in this city (Stockholm) that children for the first time found sculptures installed for them. Even better – there is no one forbidding them to touch. Quite the opposite – all the sculptures were designed so children could climb, slide and run around. The Nordic experience is conclusive – kids are happy exercising outside – Székely

Fifty years later the L’Haÿ-les-Roses slide has lost its original sheen and sports an urban dusting of graffitti. Click through for more historical and present day L’Haÿ-les-Roses images from the As-tu déjà oublié? blog.

I haven’t been able to track down how many playgrounds Székely designed but as you can see in the slideshow there’s certainly a handful scattered about the Paris suburbs that were springing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

In the late 60s, Székely made a submission to a playground design competition to create a playscape for the 1968 Grenoble Olympics. His cavernous, earthy design was the winner (slides 12 and 13). The piece could blend right in on the set of the BBC kids’ show In The Night Garden, a perfect home for the rock obsessed Makka Pakka.

Székely made magic with concrete and simple forms – art with a utilitarian purpose. But what a purpose – play, smile, dream. Looking back from our 50 year vantage point, I think his playgrounds had the ability to unleash wonder, imagination and worlds of make believe. Perhaps they still do…

His designs certainly made an impression on Carsten Höller, he of the giant slide installations and mega international venue vernissages fame. Höller made a scale model of the 1958 Cité des Jeux playground in L’Hay-les-Roses and turned it over to two mice.

I’m not sure what statement Höller is making – note the slide in the foreground of the video. Perhaps he’s asking if we’re going to play like mice, or men. From 2010, Mauseplatz was part of the solo show Animals Works.

Primary sources for this post:

As-tu déjà oublié?
Architectures de cartes postales
Catalogue Raisonné des oeuvres du sculpteur