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A Brutalist Playground Reimagined For The 21st Century

The legacy of Brutalist playgrounds comes to life in a sherbert-hued installation.

The playgrounds of today, with their plastic jungle gyms and foam mats, are a far cry from designs built during the days of fewer regulations and personal injury lawsuits. Take the playgrounds constructed for the British housing developments of the 1970s. Hard-edged, rough, and made from concrete, they had little in the way of guard rails or safety elements. Unsafe? You bet. (And many have been demolished over the years as they were deemed unsuitable for play.) But instead of dictating what children should do, they were spaces tailored for open-ended exploration.

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A new installation by artist Simon Terrill and the collective Assemble for the Royal Institute of British Architects revisits these old designs, whose abstract forms mirrored the architectural philosophy of surrounding Brutalist structures.


“These unconventional structures encourage children to take risks, to explore,” Terrill wrote in a Guardian story about the post-war designs, like the Churchill Estate, that informed the exhibition. “There is an element of danger which you might not get in soft play areas today.”

Assemble, recipient of a prestigious Turner prize this year, and Terrill pored over archival photographs and ephemera from the RIBA archives to inform their design. The historic case studies include Churchill Gardens in Pimlico, the Brunel Estate in Paddington, and the Brownfield Estate in Poplar. Then, they recreated elements from the playgrounds at full scale using foam, a “safe” material that won’t cause scrapes and bruises. The pastel hues correspond to the different densities of the material and the speckled texture is reminiscent of the bush-hammered concrete that was used on the original playgrounds.

“It’s something between an architectural object, a sculpture, and a theater set,” Terrill says of the exhibit, which is on view from June 10 to August 16, 2015. Visit architecture.com for more info.

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About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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