Monday, February 29, 2016

Path as Play: Barnetraak, TYIN Tegnestue and Rintala Eggertsson, Gran Norway, 2013

I’ve always found it strange that our primary model for play in American is the creation of centralized sites to which children are driven in cars.   This is particularly true in suburban and rural areas, such as those where the Barnetraak modules were installed.  Centralized playgrounds can make play and the physical exertion associated with it a singular event; a destination, something done on special occasions once-in-a-while.  And we should have playgrounds like that.  But affecting a child’s physical and mental health through the medium of play requires a more constant presence.

Playable features installed at a variety of scales from small (hoppable patterns in the sidewalk) to medium (retaining walls that allow, rather than forbid, balancing along their tops) to large (playable bus stops and huts like Barnetraak) give the child a playable route through their individual landscape.  They welcome the child into the built environment, facilitating healthy physical interactions many times a day instead of once on a weekend.  In their best forms, they also draw children and adults into more frequent community interactions than do destination playgrounds, and the spaces are naturally supervised because of foot traffic along existing paths.  The clustered huts of the Barnetraak project would be something completely different–something less–if they were clustered in an isolated traditional playground space, rather than along the road.

I recently had a conversation with some nice folks at ARUP, the builder of cities.  We discussed the siting of playgrounds and how placing them along paths as integral elements of the wider planning scheme instead of at the end of paths as some sort of destination alleviates many vexing playground concerns.  If in your design process you are debating whether or not your playground needs a fence, or can be properly supervised, you have most likely sited it badly.  Start over, and put it on a path!  Better yet, consider whether the elements you were going to put in your playground-as-destination would be more effective reorganized along a traffic route to become a playground-as-path.
[images via ArchDaily]