Category Archives: Sculpture

Preserving Play in Guadalajara

Public playspaces are joyful places. They’re filled with laughter, adventure and the promise of discovery. When these spaces are removed they leave a void. Where there was once breathless wonder, the adult world ushers in a pall of ordinariness.

Source – Mónica Del Arenal

The pall is at risk of descending on Morelos Park in Guadalajara, Mexico. Fifty years ago, the Mexican architect Fabián Medina Ramos, designed this playscape. Now the local government plans to destroy it.

I would rather a park that gives sanctuary to an elephant, a hippo, a camel, an untamed zone of wildful imagination. Surely these attract a greater quotient of magic than lawns, gardens, or auditoriums could ever hope to do.

Sometimes when spaces like these are threatened, civic-minded individuals mobilize public opinion to try and save them. This social action can be resoundingly successful. San Gabriel, California and L’Haÿ-les-Roses, France are examples of two sculptured playscapes from the same time period that have been saved from the wrecker’s ball.

Source – Pablo Mateos

Pablo Mateos an associate professor in social anthropology has taken up the charge. He’s trying to save this children’s playscape in Guadalajara. You can sign the petition at change.org to help save these endangered animals and protect a children’s space that has intrinsic historical and cultural value.

“What playgrounds have survived without maintenance for 50 years?” – Pablo Mateos

Source – Equipo Aristoteles

Well there seems to have been a coat of paint from time to time. The vibrant colours are in keeping with the imaginative play kids have experienced here for generations.

Help ensure that the kids of Guadalajara can continue to play in this space – drop in on change.org and add your signature to the petition.

Ed’s note -Thanks to PlayGroundology friend Suzanne McDougall for sharing information about this endangered Guadalajara playscape.

As the Worm Turns

Just look into a child’s eyes as they happen upon a wriggling worm. Before scooping it up, they watch as it bends, turns, twists its glistening annulated skin through crumbling earth. There is wonderment at play seeing this movement, the peek-a-boo tunneling, the coiling retreat.

Lozziwurm - Regensdorf - fur kinderSource: architektur fur kinder

Behold the Lozziworm conceived and designed by Swiss sculptor Yvan ‘Lozzi’ Pestalozzi. First introduced in the 1970s, there are somewhere in the vicinity of 110 spread out across Europe in parks, playgrounds and schoolyards.

Lozziwurm - fur kinderSource: architektur fur kinder

Thanks to PlayGroundology reader Cynthia Henry who shared the news that a Lozziworm is on its way to Pittsburgh, USA to be an outside beacon for the 2013 Carnegie International. A Carnegie spokesperson told PlayGroundology that there’s “a play structure because the International this year features works by artists that deal with play, both in the traditional sense of being playful, but also in the sense that play is the wellspring of creativity and making–many of them play with very serious ideas, or turn history upside down.”

The Carnegie’s Lozziworm is scheduled to be in place for play by late April. The ground is being prepared now. A profile view will look something like this.

lozziwurm_baselCourtesy Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Before signing off, take stock of Lozzi’s credo, they could be words to live by.

Think like a mature human being – enjoy life like a child.

We’ll be in touch with the Carnegie next month to get more info on the playground related exhibits during this year’s edition of the International.

Oh, you might be wondering what does one do with a Lozziworm? Crawl, climb, jump, squeeze through the dark interior, reconfigure the shape and of course endless games from the imagination.

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

J

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…)

Sculpting Play – Freezing Time

I love to see joyful kids at play immortalized in public art. The frozen in time playfulness in sculpted forms can put a spring in our steps and a smile on our faces like this barefoot piggy back race.

7052421545_6960279ddd_cSingapore Botanic Gardens. Photo Credit – Choo Yut Shing. License – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Sifting through the flickr world of images, it seems that sculptures of playing kids are particularly popular in the United States. In the Sculpture of Play flickr gallery, public art from Bangladesh, Japan, Italy and Canada is also represented.

5635549014_f5008d4b6a_zDendermonde, Belgium. Photo credit – egonwegh. License – CC BY-NC 2.0.

I like to imagine that these posed stances are momentarily released from their immobility each time a child plays in their vicinity or an adult pauses to wistfully reminisce about days of play in years gone by.

Hats off to flickr photographers who allow others to curate and share their work. Click Sculptures of Play for the lightbox version of the gallery.

I have yet to come across any public art depicting play in my hometown of Halifax, Canada. I have been wondering though if, in communities that have commissioned art that depicts play, there is a corresponding commitment to providing public play spaces.

If you have any photos of public art depicting play, drop us a line and we’ll post to PlayGroundoloy FB.

The Tides Turn

Halifax’s waterfront sculpture ‘The Wave’ is now firmly in the play zone. After more than 20 years of trying to keep kids and adults from scaling the sculpture and sliding back down, the authorities have apparently given in. The change in heart sets ‘The Wave’ free for the summer’s biggest blowout on the harbour’s boardwalks – Tall Ships 2012.

The chiseled in stone statement at the base of the sculpture no longer applies. It is pretty much a free for all. There is also a newly installed rubberized ground cover. This will help break the falls that will inevitably happen. Anything flies now.

Kids are having great fun. Parents are a little skittish. I know the feeling, our four and six-year-old have perched on top and then skittled on down to ground level.

The National Post’s Joe O’Connor did a nice piece on ‘The Wave’ back in May. Take a read.

Thanks to Donna Hiebert for creating this iconic piece of public art that Haligonians and visitors, kids and adults love to play on. Thanks too to the authorities who have moved on from their former killjoy role.

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.