David Rockwell stumbled upon his idea for a new kind of public playground after ordering a fancy art desk for his two children. “It had all these compartments, and I was very excited about it,” the designer explains. “When I got home, the kids were in the hall in the cardboard box with the foam pellets. They had been playing there all day.”
That led Rockwell to set out, pro bono, to develop a playground that promotes free play rather than the jungle gyms and swing sets that emphasize motor skills. The designer focused on basic elements such as building blocks, sand, water, and found objects, and updated the whole concept for the 21st century. Rather than a flat field with climbing structures, an Imagination Playground provides a multilevel play space. “It’s the same thing you would have in the country with a hill or a series of rocks,” he says. “It’s space to explore.”
SAND A sandbox isn’t anything new, but here, sand is yet another building material that can be used in conjunction with foam blocks. “It exponentially increases the opportunities for play,” Rockwell says.
ON THE MOVE The first Imagination Playground is now under construction in Lower Manhattan and due to be completed next year. This spring, KaBoom, a national nonprofit playground builder, is rolling out Imagination Playground in a Box, a kit of more than 150 loose parts, for use with existing playgrounds. In addition, KaBoom is scouting other locations around the country to build permanent Imagination Playgrounds.
WATER Bringing rural fun into urban and suburban areas is a recurring theme: Running water and a shallow pool offer the next best thing to playing in a real pond or creek. Here, water can be dammed up and controlled by kids, or diverted to make waterfalls and sprays using the park’s blocks and other loose pieces.