Search results for "Imagination Playground"

Placeholder Alt Text

Rockwell Group–designed Imagination Playground opens in Brownsville, Brooklyn
Local students and community members joined NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, City Council Member Darlene Mealy, and David Rockwell, founding principle of Rockwell Group, for the opening of the Imagination Playground at Betsy Head Park in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Although the concept derives from adventure playgrounds and similar philosophies of unstructured play, the Brownsville Imagination Playground is technically the first permanent one of its kind in Brooklyn, and the second worldwide. (The first, also designed by the Rockwell Group, opened in 2010 at the Burling Slip in Manhattan). The $5.05 million project was influenced by tree houses, a foil to the monolithic blocks of high-rise public housing for which Brownsville is best known. A curved ramp wends its way through mature trees, while blue foam blocks, cut into funky shapes, along with water and sand, are tools for children to collaborate, build, or create by themselves. Traditional play elements—slides swing sets, chess tables, and a basketball court—round out the program. A year before the Burling Slip playground opened, Rockwell Group tested the designs in Brownsville with former NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. David Rockwell elaborated on the process: "When we were asked to do a second Imagination Playground, it gave us a chance to do a couple of things from a design perspective: One, these London Plane trees were incredible, they were a landmark that was important to preserve. We were able to create a path that weaves around the trees. Like the lower Manhattan playground, it's a playground you can see from 360 degrees. It's really a community space." https://www.flickr.com/photos/136339520@N03/25924630244/in/dateposted-public/ This reporter dodged zooming children and risked limb (well, ankle—platform sandals were a bad choice for this assignment!) to give you, dear readers, a panoramic view of the park from the bridge. (Look closely at 0:55 in the video above and you can see another local landmark, the Kenneth Frampton–designed Marcus Garvey Village.)
Placeholder Alt Text

Rockwell makes a ruckus at Imagination Playground
“It doesn’t seem like it, but everything connects with each one perfectly,” said Gabrielle Sunderland, 12, squinting happily toward the hot July sun. Around her were piles of weather- and germ-resistant foam blocks in sundry shapes and sizes. The blue pieces are the signature element of David Rockwell’s Imagination Playground, which opened Tuesday on Burling Slip near the South Street Seaport. A designer of theaters, high-end restaurants, and Broadway stage sets, Rockwell found his own children bored by the playgrounds of Lower Manhattan. So he set out to create a playspace where kids could use their own imagination, just as he once did. “Playgrounds are the places where kids can learn how to be a community and create their own worlds, but the ones we visited were all too linear,” he told AN at the opening. “That gave me the idea of a different kind of playground.” Gabrielle and her friend Ajda Celebi, 10, were industriously showing off Rockwell’s central strategy: providing kids with loose pieces that promote unstructured play. The girls set two rectangular blocks together with a noodle on the side and a ball on top, creating something like a giant teapot. They liked the fact that the playground allows them to make structures entirely “out of your own creativity,” as Ajda put it. The project got its start after Rockwell persuaded Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe with a drawing on a lunch napkin, and then spent five years researching progressive learning theory and child development. He also helped round up funds for the $7.5 million project, which included a $4.5 million grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and $3 million from the New York City Department of Environmental Protection for the relocation of two water mains and a sewer line into the adjacent street. Rockwell also teamed with nonprofit playground designer KaBOOM! and together they developed Imagination Playground in smaller portable versions, tested and tweaked after trial tours in Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Miami, and New York. But the first permanent site for the concept is designed pro-bono on a former parking lot at Burling Slip. Comprised of a large multi-level deck in the shape of a swooping figure eight of reclaimed Indonesian teak, the new playground is essentially an empty space for the array of 350 props. Situated in a landmark district, the landscape does include some features that recall the surrounding area’s nautical past, including reused benches from Coney Island, barrels, and burlap bags. The west end is the sand pit, consisting of sloping wooden ramps and four wooden masts made by a shipbuilder, each connected by ropes and pulleys. In the center stands a crow’s nest atop a red, circular structure housing bathrooms and a storage space for the blocks. At the east end, a rounded amphitheater for storytelling overlooks an ankle-deep pool with pipes and canals that enable the control of cascading water. A staff of city workers trained as “play associates” oversees the action, as with all Imagination Playgrounds. According to Benepe, Burling Slip is the start of a new era of New York City playgrounds, where Rockwell’s sponges will replace worn-out monkey bars, swings, and jungle gyms. “The next step is to look at playgrounds that are underperforming and need renovation in central Brooklyn and the South Bronx, and apply the concept,” he told AN, adding that these might come with a different set of materials. “Here we had a flexible budget, but we could take a traditional Parks Department playground budget, and use these approaches.” For his part, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg described the project as a tremendous success. “It is always amazing to see what children choose to create when they are fully using their imagination,” he declared. As for the little pirates, they too gave the playspace top grade. “It’s all big and blue and bendy,” Gabrielle said, while balancing a cog on top of a cube tower. “It’s a lot of fun!” And Ajda added, “The new West Thames playground where I live is really cool, but this one is more fun, because you can do anything here.” With that, she eagerly returned to helping the other kids dam a cascading water flow in the pool area. To everyone’s joy, the jets of water created unexpected rainbows against the blue afternoon sky.
Placeholder Alt Text

Mess With the Imagination (Playground) of David Rockwell
For the past few years, David Rockwell, that master of stage and scene, has been developing the Imagination Playground, a deployable playground-in-a-box that has been finding its way across the country. Now, he is just finishing a larger playground, sort of a showcase for the concept, at Burling Slip in Lower Manhattan. (As the rendering after the jump shows, it's quite literally a flagship.) To celebrate the opening of the new playground at the end of July, the Parks Department is taking imagination playgrounds on a pop-up tour, which kicked off this past weekend in Staten Island, with stops in all five boroughs to follow. It truly is a revolutionary concept in recreation, though not the first, as we've chronicled. In the current issue of New York, Justin Davidson even gives us the best 19 in the city, yet another mind of the parks renaissance currently taking place in New York.
Placeholder Alt Text

Playscapes

New exhibition at BSA Space explores playground design
Now on view at BSA Space is an exhibition and accompanying education program that focuses on playgrounds around the world. Dubbed Extraordinary Playscapes, it will run until September 5, 2016 and was curated by Design Museum Boston. On display are drawings, sketches, videos, scale models, and playable installations featuring 40 international playgrounds. Examples of contemporary architect-designed playgrounds in the U.S. abound: in April, the Rockwell Group–designed Imagination Playground (featured in Extraordinary Playscapes) opened in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Similarly, in December the renovated Adventure Playground in Central Park, designed by Richard Dattner, also opened. These two playgrounds provide the opportunity for “unstructured play,” a growing trend in playgrounds. Some of the designs featured in the exhibition include: Wild Walk in Tupper Lake, New York, designed by Chip Reay; PlayForm7 in Singapore, designed by Playworld Inc; Esplanade Playspace in Boston, designed by Halvorson Design Partnership; Takino Rainbow Nest in Takino, Japan, designed by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam; Maggie Daley Park in Chicago, designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates; and Ambulance Playground at Beit CURE Hospital in Malawi, Africa, designed by Super Local. You can read more about Extraordinary Playscapes here.
Placeholder Alt Text

Rockwell Group Designs A Treehouse-esque Playground for Park in Brownsville
The Rockwell Group and NYC Parks unveiled their plans last week to turn a 1.5-acre section of Betsy Head Park in Brownsville into a lush and active playground. When designing Imagination Playground, the firm looked to treehouses for inspiration. The site will feature a winding ramp that snakes around London Plane trees and connects to slides and a series of jungle gyms that spill out into an open area with sand, water, benches, and plantings. In collaboration with landscape architecture firm MKW + Associates, the Rockwell Group has taken on this project pro-bono and will donate a set of Playground Blocks to the Brownsville Recreation Center. The $3.92 million playground was funded with the help of government subsidies from Mayor Bloomberg, Borough President Markowitz, and Council Member Mealy. Partner David Rockwell founded Imagination Playground in partnership with NYC Parks and KaBOOM, a non-profit organization, to encourage activity and unstructured play for children at nominal cost by providing loose building blocks in outdoor recreational spaces. Right now the project is slated to break ground in spring of 2014 and open in 2015.    
Placeholder Alt Text

Blue for Days

Rockwell Group’s Blue School brings a pop of color to Lower Manhattan
Rockwell Group’s design for the recently opened Blue School in New York City falls outside the lines of traditional design for primary and secondary education, especially in the cramped Big Apple. While the school includes many basic elements such as closed-door classrooms and a sizable cafeteria, the one thing the architects were expected to uniquely incorporate for the private school, which was founded by alumni of the Blue Man Group, is color. Lots of color. Stretched across four floors of a mixed-use, former medical building in Manhattan’s Financial District, the school serves as a “home away from home” for its kids, featuring flexible spaces and playful palettes that encourage creative self-expression and pride at all ages. The Blue School opened last month for its inaugural semester, welcoming 100 students and 70 faculty members through its shiny glass doors under a neon sign signaling its presence in the neighborhood. The 45,000-square-foot facility is the New York-based institution’s second campus designed by Rockwell Group. It provides much-needed breathing room for the school’s fourth through eighth-grade levels, which were previously housed in what’s now the primary school located in the South Street Seaport. Thanks to the move, pre-kindergarten through third-grade students were also given more space inside their facility, which opened in 2010. For the Upper School, as the new facility is known, Rockwell Group leveled up the design out of respect for the older children, who naturally are becoming more mature as they age. The architects outfitted the space with a bright, eye-catching interior and a layout designed to spark personal discovery as well as collaboration. “There’s a sense of respect the kids feel in spaces designed for them,” said Michael Fischer, the associate principal who led the design with David Rockwell. “They have autonomy, feel empowered and trusted.” Upon walking through the doors of the new Blue School, students, teachers, and guests are greeted with a lobby sporting a lounge-like feel, as well a high-gloss, neon yellow central staircase that serves as the main point of circulation in the facility. To the left in a community space called the Commons, colorful outdoor furniture adds a contemporary twist to the cafeteria setting along with bleacher-like seating wrapped in wood and staggered along the walls for a topographical effect. Additionally, a bar with stools lines the edge of the 1,800-square-foot space overlooking the street. The Commons also includes walls lined with LED-lit garden planters where food is grown as part of the school’s science curriculum as well as for students’ meals. The living wall is maintained in partnership with Brooklyn Grange and enhances the living room-like atmosphere of the shared space. On the basement level, Rockwell Group created a grown-up version of their Imagination Playground system with which students can construct their own seating stations using shapely, blue-foam cushions. The surrounding walls are clad with colorful, geometric wallpaper by Flavor Paper. Two studios as well as a column-free gymnasium, which doubles as a 130-seat auditorium—the Blue School’s first ever performance space—were also designed for the school’s arts and exercise programs. If flexibility is an integral part of the Blue School’s educational philosophy and its interior architectural design, the concept is most evident on the top floors where each learning space includes key elements that allow teachers and students to take over space how they see fit. Rockwell Group collaborated with Uhuru to create non-directional trapezoidal desks that can be easily set up to form clusters for group-work situations. Each classroom also includes a raised carpeted platform dedicated to quiet reading or presentations. An art room, maker lab, and materials library were also given major space on the second floor. Both are fully stocked with every kind of arts and engineering supply imaginable, from paint brushes to saws, to glue and glass. An adjacent materials library—open to the kids at all times—serves several fields of study and specific STEAM courses. The Blue School’s library features a book-lined, double-height reading space with a massive sofa and custom common tables by Rockwell Group for Knoll. Hanging from the ceiling next to the curtain-wall window is a light sculpture designed in collaboration with Dot Dash Design. It changes colors throughout the day and amplifies the school’s interior at night. From the street level, passersby can see activity within the facility and students get a sense of inclusion in the bustling neighborhood. Since the Blue School began in 2006, it has added one grade level per year to its roster of students—hence the need to build out a new campus for its burgeoning population. The first group of kids to begin at the school recently graduated from 8th grade and though they never had the chance to move into the new Upper School, they were integrated into the extensive planning process that Rockwell Group held with students, parents, and teachers. The school expects the number of students to double over the next several years. Blue School will featured as an Open Access site during Open House New York this Saturday, October 13th. Check it out from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. or go on a guided tour with representatives from Blue School and Rockwell Group at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. Reservations are not required.
Placeholder Alt Text

Armchair Planning Association

A new online planning platform lets residents shape a neighborhood from the comfort of their smartphones
In a creative digital shift, the City of New York has residents of one Brooklyn neighborhood tagging up a storm on a new urban planning platform designed to affect neighborhood change IRL. With the help of coUrbanize, a Boston-based city planning and community engagement startup, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) is testing its new toolkit of neighborhood planning ideas in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Building on community input gathered in The Brownsville Hundred Days to Progress Initiative and the department's guidelines for neighborhood planning, HPD is using coUrbanize's platform to aid the Brownsville Neighborhood Planning Process, a community planning initiative that seeks to increase the neighborhood's supply of affordable housing; add retail along Livonia Avenue, a main commercial artery; and enhance public safety with vacant lot revitalization, among other measures. Instead of convening residents in a church or a rec center basement, coUrbanize brings neighborhood planning meetings online, distilling the often-complex studies and terms that planners throw around with impunity (ULURP? CEQR?) into an easy-to-understand format and tag-able map that solicits residents' ideas. Founded in 2013 by graduates of MIT's School of Architecture and Planning, the site is geared towards people who want to participate in their community's planning but may not have time or schedule flexibility to attend a meeting. In Brownsville, a neighborhood where many have limited access to the internet and 37 percent of households live below the poverty line, HPD uses coUrbanize's platform to encourage residents text in feedback on areas the city has identified as sites for improvement. "We're committed to reaching voices not often heard, traditionally," said Karin Brandt, coUrbanize founder and CEO. The text messaging service also has a general line where people can voice ideas that aren't on the city's radar. In a welcome display of constructive feedback and civility—two attributes generally not reserved for online comments sections—Brownsville residents are using coUrbanize's platform to map places of interest in their neighborhood that they love, those that are just okay, and ideas for what could be better or built anew. Amid endorsements of spaces like the Osborn Street park and mural and the (Rockwell Group–designed) Imagination Playground at Betsy Head Park, many commenters called for more extracurricular activities for neighborhood youth, sit-down restaurants, and better amenities in parks. The Brownsville planning project is in the second stage of its four-stage timeline right now, with a final plan expected by February 2017. Right now, the coUrbanize toolkit is used mainly by municipalities in Massachusetts, but cities farther afield (Atlanta, San Antonio) are signing up. The City of Boston is using the platform to widen its community engagement for Imagine Boston 2030, the city's multi-pronged planning effort that comes with a stellar city nerd reading list. Check out the platform here.
Placeholder Alt Text

Brooklyn Bridge Park
Brooklyn Bridge Park struggles with being both human scale and monumental.
Courtesy MVVA

Sometimes allegory writes itself. Here, it’s the removal of the futuristic stainless-steel playground climbing domes at the Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates– designed Brooklyn Bridge Park. Following the opening of the park’s Pier 1 first phase in April 2010, the domes scorchingly overheated in early summer sunshine. Their replacement by a direly anodyne but liability-proof dollhouse structure could stand for the sensible return of quasi- traditional designs after modernist overreach, or for a failure of imagination and ambition, in which the optimistically risk-taking formal and functional intelligence that is modernism’s timeless legacy is abandoned in favor of the complacently picturesque.

The design of parks and playgrounds in New York City seems currently torn between these two impulses. On the one hand, there are projects like David Rockwell’s Imagination Playground, a Constructivist Legoland just opened at the Burling Slip near the South Street Seaport. On the other, there are developments like the recent renovation inflicted on Washington Square Park, in which the once superbly sensitive prospect-and-refuge modulations of the park’s multi-level ground plane, and the once lively handling of its historically off-kilter plan (developed by polymath designer Robert Nichols in a community-driven 1971 project) have been flattened by a tightly-wound ersatz-historical pastiche of windswept symmetry, bench-shaped benches and fence-shaped fences, from which tiny tidy bits of lawn can be surveilled, but not much else.

A new playrgound at Pier 6, with Red Hook and Governor's Island beyond.

Brooklyn Bridge Park would appear to be safely in the first camp. To be arrayed when complete across some 65 acres of Brooklyn’s former shipping piers, it continues for the outer boroughs such large-scale waterfront reclamations as Manhattan’s Hudson River Park and Harlem Piers Park—in this case financially initiated and sustained, not without controversy, by the residential and hotel development of six adjacent parcels with priceless skyline and river views.

Much of Pier 1 is unimpeachable. A robust vocabulary of galvanized steel, maritime wood, asphalt paving, cable fencing, and other no-nonsense materials hold their own against a tough urban setting in the shadow of the BQE. Behind the shoulder of a steep hill, a cascade of granite steps, salvaged from nearby Roosevelt Island, forms an amphitheater and climactic overlook high above the East River. Thirty-five-foot telephone poles become totemic tree trunks and laconic lighting uprights. A sinuously sloping ridgeline provides ramped tree-lined pathways that delay and reveal views of city and water. A broad waterfront promenade recalls the one far above in Brooklyn Heights.

Joggers and bench-sitters enjoying the promenade at sunset.

A complex three-dimensional problem of physical and visual occupation has been methodically and successfully solved, with crisp detailing pleasingly combining industrial manufacture and contemporary élan. Still to come are a rainwater runoff pond, a reconstructed salt marsh, and a boat slip. On a recent Friday afternoon, the park was densely and delightedly occupied by diverse constituencies—including an intrepid group of soccer players who had miniaturized and adapted their game to fit into the mostly concave hollow of the main north-facing lawn.

That miniaturization speaks to one challenge facing the Pier 1 park, which is scale: Mediating its 9.5 acres between the scale of the human body and the scale of nearby infrastructural icons like the Brooklyn Bridge, Pier 1 has chosen to be a little-big park, rather than a big-little one. What this means is that in the cumulative effect of its many small hills and valleys, switchbacks, and meadows, it can feel slightly like a three-quarters-scale model of itself: packed with beautiful and effective features, and almost continually delightful, but without a lot of room to breathe or improvise. At Brooklyn Bridge Park, that room will, of course, eventually arrive with the continuing development of the adjacent five piers, which will provide full-size indoor and outdoor sports fields, event spaces, and miles of trails and lawns.

A cove created by the former pilings of Pier 2 adjacent to Pier 1.

And yet this tendency toward dense specificity of activity can risk suppressing the imaginative improvisation, drift, opportunism, serendipity, and loosely counter-programmatical use of space that are the greatest gifts of playgrounds and parks to their users. The new Washington Square Park fails so profoundly because, unlike the old, it encourages the narrowest one-to-one mapping between object and event: a hospitably curving edge calibrated along a shift in ground level can be a bench, a bed, a stage, a gameboard, a skate ramp, a soap box. A faux-Victorian bench is a bench is a bench.

A sign at the Pier 1 playground outlaws, along with amplified sound and smoking, “using playground equipment in an unsafe or unintended fashion.” Safety matters. It’s that “unintended” that worries. And yet somewhere there’s a tipping point in which the regulation of space required by a density of narrowly single-use features starts to betray the magnificent liberties of unintended consequences, that, ever since Richard Dattner brought the Adventure Playground to Central Park in the 1960s, has been the city’s contribution to play and to public space.

Placeholder Alt Text

Parks, Public Space, and Streetscapes
Starr Whitehouse and FXFowle have reimagined Water Street with new medians and retail to enliven the barren streetscape.
Courtesy Alliance for Downtown New York

Lower Manhattan boasts some of the city’s oldest parks, Bowling Green and the Historic Battery, as well as one of the borough’s leafiest neighborhoods, Battery Park City, but the area is best known for its warren of narrow, winding streets, corridors darkened by the blackening crowns from New York’s first skyscraper boom. This wonderfully eclectic area retains a sense of mystery while also evoking the quintessential Gotham City.

As the neighborhood diversifies to become increasingly residential, more places to stretch your legs, walk the dog, or play with the kids are needed. In the granite canyons of Lower Manhattan and along its eastern waterfront, new public spaces are being carved out or spruced up. The first phase of the East River Esplanade, from Wall Street to Maiden Lane, is taking shape under the shadow of the FDR. Designed by SHoP and Ken Smith, the stretch includes a dog run with a giant squirrel and tree, both of bronze. Several street furniture mockups, including a handsome High Line–like lounge/bench, have been installed near Pier 11. Phase One is scheduled to open by the fall, and the rest of the Esplanade should be complete by 2012. According to the Economic Development Corporation, which is overseeing the project with the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the project is being rolled out in much the same form as the original design. The number of kiosks, however, which will house cafes, restrooms, and storage facilities, has been reduced to four.


SHoP is reinventing the East River Esplanade with Ken Smith Landscape Architect.
Courtesy SHOP

Along Fulton Street, a new string of pocket parks is meant to suggest a greater connection from West to East, connecting the World Trade Center site to the Fulton Transit Center to the Seaport to the East River Esplanade. The most notable of these is Burling Slip, designed by the Rockwell Group with the Parks Department, which features a so-called Imagination Playground with blue foam pieces that can be arranged and manipulated by children. Burling Slip is to open at the end of July.

A less well-known part of Lower Manhattan’s evolution is the complete reworking of the area’s street infrastructure, including all of the data, utility, water, and sewer lines, funded through a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) grant following 9/11. According to officials at the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, more than a third of the 100 miles of streets have been excavated and completely rebuilt. One of the last of those streets to be rebuilt will be Water Street, the focus of a new plan by the Alliance for Downtown New York.


At night, Water Street would be activated by new lighting and multimedia elements.
Courtesy Alliance for downtown new york

Water Street: A New Approach calls for extensive tree planting and landscaped medians running up Water Street, one of the widest in Lower Manhattan. Created by landscape architects Starr Whitehouse working with FXFowle, the plan is conceived as a way of boosting the value of the street’s midcentury office buildings and retaining its commercial tenants by making what is currently a fairly barren nine-to-five streetscape into a more active and attractive place. “Bill Rudin came to us and said it was time for a new vision for Water Street,” said Nicole LaRusso, senior vice president for planning and economic development for the Alliance. “So we began a collaborative process involving building owners, residents, and city agencies.”

Robert Moses widened the street in the early 1960s, and it became the model for POPs, the new zoning allowance wherein developers were granted extra height as long as they included privately maintained publicly accessible plazas and arcades in their projects. One of the more complex issues addressed in the plan is what to do now with these under-performing POPS that dot the street. The plan calls for greater commercial activity, including restaurants and retail space to be built on the plazas, something that would necessitate zoning changes. In the short term, the Department of Transportation is planning an 8,000-square-foot temporary plaza at Water and Whitehall streets that will act as a gateway to the corridor. “There is a long history of Lower Manhattan being recognized as a special case,” LaRusso said. “We think unique zoning for Water Street could be a fine outcome.”

Placeholder Alt Text

Adventure Central
Richard Dattner's Ancient Playground was one of two adventure playgrounds recently refurbished by the Central Park Conservancy
Courtesy Central Park Conservancy

Being a kid—or at least a playground designer—was a lot more fun in the 1970s, before the advent of telephone-book-thick ASTM standards, not to mention things like critical fall heights, head-entrapment guidelines, and the virtual outlawing of sand. “It’s almost like a police state, what you can and cannot do in a playground,” said Paul Friedberg, the landscape architect who created some of New York’s most innovative play spaces. “The freedom that we once had is just completely gone.”


A child plays in a water feature at the Ancient Playground.
 

But vestiges of that freewheeling age can be found in Central Park, where the spirit of adventure thrives thanks to restorations this summer of two pioneering playgrounds. In overhauling these spaces to meet modern safety and accessibility needs, the Central Park Conservancy has shown that safety and rambunctiousness can still coexist.

Designed by Richard Dattner in 1972, Ancient Playground was one of 21 Robert Moses–era playgrounds installed around the park’s perimeter. In the late 1960s, these spaces began to be remade in the style of postwar Europe’s adventure playgrounds, where children molded their environments out of bricks, timber, and tires. Dattner themed his space on the Egyptian collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, just across a transverse road at West 84th Street. “I thought it would be wonderful to teach kids something of ancient construction—the pyramids, obelisks, mastabas, and so forth—and relate in a kids’ scale to what was across the street,” Dattner said.

The central challenge of the renovation—the fourth of Dattner’s playgrounds to be reconstructed in the park—was to create a required clear space around the main playground elements. Among other changes, the conservancy’s designers created a regulation tire swing that mimics the original design, while increasing the size of Dattner’s tunnels for better visibility. Since sand is not considered an accessible surface material, designers used safety surfacing that matched the spirit of the original.

The West 100th Street playground, designed by Ross, Ryan, Jacquette Architects, has also been restored by the conservancy.

The second playground, at West 100th Street, took its adventure-style form in 1972 to designs by Ross, Ryan, Jacquette Architects. The curving bridge, climbing cone, and water-spray feature have been restored, with the addition of complementary new equipment and resilient carpeting. A tree house was built around several mature trees, which were sadly removed after suffering damage during the August 18 storm. (The tree house remains.)

These respectful restorations are the latest sign that, 40 years later, adventure play is back. “In the 1970s, adventure playgrounds pushed the limits of demanding, physical play,” said Christopher Nolan, the conservancy’s vice president for capital projects. “We’ve been able to preserve the innovations that those playgrounds represented.” The two spaces join other playgrounds of this style, like the Rockwell Group’s Imagination Playground in Lower Manhattan, due to open next year, with a kit of loose parts that kids can use under the supervision of “play associates.”

Dattner, who consulted pro bono on his playground’s redesign, regards this latest generation of play spaces with a certain bemusement. “Much of my knowledge of the value of play has really been from the observation of kids playing with junk in the gutter,” he said. “The two major materials are sand and water. The rest is extra.”

A version of this article appeared in AN 18_11.04.2009.

Placeholder Alt Text

Make Your Voice Heard

How can architecture criticism give everyone a seat at the table?
As Christopher Hawthorne moves on from the Los Angeles Times and as new forms of criticism proliferate, we asked the architecture community what the role of the critic is today, and what it might be missing. What do you see as the role of the critic in architecture today? Why is it important? What aspects of architecture are not being addressed today by critics? What are the problems with criticism today? Here are the responses we received from those who felt that architecture criticism is inherently political and should be approached as such, from across the country and abroad. How can women and people of color be included in the conversation when the field has typically buried their voices? This article was originally published in our May print issue, and was preceded by a selection of answers from architecture critics themselves and those who thought that the internet has fundamentally changed the field. Nolan Boomer Arts critic and editor of Take Shape. “At the core of architectural criticism is the realization that setting is not the backdrop of humankind’s story, but actually a character that shapes its plot...some of the best criticism appears in other genres like fiction and poetry, but it often isn’t considered as such.” Alice Twemlow Head of Design Curating and Writing Masters at Design Academy Eindhoven and professor of design at The Royal Academy of Art, The Hague. “If you take architecture to be less about individual buildings, and more about the structural, political, and conceptual framing of the shifting relationship between public and private space, (which I do) then the role of the architecture critic merges with that of the social critic and, in that respect, is immensely important. When that framing is thoughtful and brilliant, she should make sure we hear about it; and when the framing is uninformed or unfair, she should also make sure we hear about it. She should remind us of the past, respond to the current situation, and anticipate or lead future moves. She should advocate for the right of every public citizen to access the aesthetic and practical benefits of the built environment whilst being protected from it failings and harmful effects. And if that sounds like hard work, and that it encroaches on the territory of urban planning, social politics, environmental science, ethics, and philosophy, that’s because it is, and it does.” Mitch McEwen Assistant professor at Princeton University School of Architecture and partner of A(n) Office. “Architecture has made so many heroic and visionary claims, and also failed so many people for so long. The architecture critic can sort through these claims and failures and new potentials, both for us and for a wider public.” Mark Foster Gage Principal of Mark Foster Gage Architects and the assistant dean of the Yale School of Architecture. “I think there is an old notion of a critic who tells you if something is good or not. This is outdated and it probably comes from [Gene] Siskel and [Roger] Ebert on television, watching movies—‘thumbs up’ and ‘thumbs down.’ Here the critic is an arbiter of taste. It’s not helpful: it’s about judgment rather than a new opening of discussion. It’s a closure, stopping conversation cold. Once you call a movie bad, why discuss it? I believe a critic is a person that opens people’s eyes as to WHY certain things are notable in various disciplines (or outside of them). A critic should be opening conversations, prompting curiosity, and inciting interest. I also think it is the responsibility of the critic to focus on contemporary work and issues—‘the new’ is always in most need of support and discussion, especially among those who feel intimidated or uncomfortable about it. This is what the critic is supposed to do, make it possible to bring more people into the conversation about any type of work. They are stewards of curiosity and interest, not judges of success or failure.” Enrique Ramirez Writer and architectural historian based in Brooklyn. “This question presumes that criticism is important to the discipline and practice of architecture. To say so is to admit to a certain kind of hubris. Criticism is not needed, for no matter if critics decide to take on the mantle of an investigative magistrate and try to shed light on a particular issue, to watch different actors scurry about once their particular malfeasances become exposed, to say: ‘Aha, Architecture...YOU’VE BEEN CAUGHT’...this is criticizing, but is it criticism? I used to think, ‘Yes, it is.’ It’s not. An architectural critic may tell you, ‘Look at this building ...Modernism is EVIL!’ or ‘Postmodernism is TRITE!’ or ‘Everything coming out of UCLA or Michigan is MAGENTA and CORNFLOWER BLUE!’ Okay, but so what? If that is the mode of engagement that architectural critics prefer, then I want no part of it. As critics, we need to look at colleagues in other fields to see how they advocate for the cultural relevance of their object of inquiry, for this is at the heart of criticism. Architectural criticism seems stuck in a kind [of] mode that conflates ‘criticism’ with ‘criticizing,’ one that privileges the dressing down of a building over everything else. Architecture lives in the world at large, and as critics, we need to state how this is the case.” José Esparza Chong Cuy Associate curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. “I believe that an informed public opinion of what needs to be celebrated and denounced is more important than ever. Contemporary life is shaped by so many invisible mechanisms that need to be exposed to the day-to-day eye. There are so many things at play regulated by sociopolitical, economic, and environmental factors in the spaces we inhabit that we need to have thought out critical positions to be able to act accordingly, both socially and professionally. Having a better understanding of these invisible mechanisms could potentially open new ways of operating. Moreover, I believe that all critical mediums should make an attempt to cover rural environments. It is clear that city-living is not the only option, but critics should make an effort to cover stories about rural life and the rural landscapes to connect the practice or architecture to these settings as well. We tend to forget how interconnected the rural and urban contexts are, and the critic should use its platform to inform how one setting feeds off the other and vice versa.” Bika Rebek Founding principal of Some Place, and an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia GSAPP. “A master of expansive writing reaching all fringes, and perhaps my favorite critic is Karl Kraus. While architecture is just one of his wide-ranging interests, his writing is personal, angry, funny, extremely timely and unconcerned with the consequences. Contemporary architectural criticism would benefit from this fearlessness and sense of humor. With more pointed controversy, critics could attract wider audiences and become part of an age-old dialogue, spinning the web further through the lens of our time.” Jesse LeCavalier  Designer, writer, and educator whose work explores the architectural and urban implications of contemporary logistics. He is the author of The Rule of Logistics: Walmart and the Architecture of Fulfillment, assistant professor of architecture at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and the Daniel Rose Visiting Assistant Professor at the Yale School of Architecture. “Foucault’s appeal to a kind of criticism focused on curiosity, attention, stewardship, and imagination remains, for me, an appealing statement about the potential role of the critic: ‘I can’t help but dream about a kind of criticism that would try not to judge but to bring an oeuvre, a book, a sentence, an idea to life; it would light fires, watch the grass grow, listen to the wind, and catch the sea foam in the breeze and scatter it. It would multiply not judgments but signs of existence; it would summon them, drag them from their sleep. Perhaps it would invent them sometimes—all the better. All the better. Criticism that hands down sentences sends me to sleep; I’d like a criticism of scintillating leaps of the imagination.’ While thoughtful and perceptive engagement with buildings will always be important, I feel like now more than ever we need to develop an expanded understanding the larger forces shaping the built environment, from our own consumer choices to larger policy transformations, their implications, and ways to engage them.” Kate Wagner Creator of McMansion Hell and a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University researching concert hall design in transition from late- to post-modernism. “Architecture is inherently political on its own! While the city is relevant to the building, we should avoid using the city as a crutch.” Fred Scharmen Teaches architecture and urban design at Morgan State University’s School of Architecture and Planning. His first book, Space Settlements, will be out later this year. “I saw a joke on Twitter the other week that said: ‘Every academic discipline has another academic discipline which watches them, occasionally making sarcastic comments.’ For architecture, criticism gets even weirder, because this shadow discipline is supposed to do at least two more other things: it’s meant to be internalized, so architects should be working and self-critiquing at almost the same time; and it’s also supposed to be outward-facing, to explain what’s going on inside the discipline to an external audience. So somehow we’re all meant to be our own worst and best critics, hecklers, and narrators, all at once. This situation is messed up.” Peggy Deamer Professor of architecture at Yale University, an architect practicing in New York, and content coordinator of the Architecture Lobby. “The role of the critic is to inform both the public and the discipline about what aesthetic, economic, cultural, or social value is potentially embedded in that discipline and point out examples that are good or bad in relation to that potential. Critics aren’t identifying the connection between how we in the discipline work—with illegal, economically naive, sexist, and formally myopic protocols—and the poverty of what we are asked to work on (rich peoples second houses; the occasional private institution) and the consequent lack of respect and financial stability.” David Grahame Shane Adjunct professor in the Urban Design program at Columbia GSAPP. “Architectural criticism is not important as there is so little architecture of quality produced today by large firms or clients to consider. Look at Hudson Yards or the World Trade Center, and weep. The profession is BIM-ed and value-engineered to death. Public commissions and competitions that once gave openings to critics and young firms have disappeared along with small bookstores and magazines. Chat rooms and the academy remain as hermetic critical fortresses with their own private codes and handshakes. Sadly public intellectuals and critics are a disappearing breed, dying off in the new architectural ecology, occasionally spotlighted by museums as avant-garde and remote insights. It’s not a pretty picture, but surely in the future people will regain a sense of shared communities in the city and countryside and a new breed of architectural critics and architectural practice will re-emerge.” Michael Sorkin Architect, author, educator and founding principal of Michael Sorkin Studio. “The critic’s duty is resistance!  As the country careens toward full-on fascism, its environment assailed and warfare looming, we must defend the social architectures of civility and not lose ourselves in the artistic weeds.  A critic who fails to assail Trump, supports him.” Kelsey Keith Editor-in-Chief of Curbed. “Architecture as a study and as a practice has done a lot to isolate itself. I think that the built environment matters so much because it affects and influences people in the places they live. I speak not as an academic or as a critical theorist, but as someone who genuinely loves all this, wants it to be better, and believes that end is achieved in part via criticism. An architecture critic’s role in society today is to contextualize—whether the point is to educate, or entertain, or satisfy some curiosity: ‘Why are A-frames suddenly so popular again? Why is it important to preserve the work of a rare woman project lead from a midcentury architecture firm?’ Most critics are too busy broadcasting their own well-formed opinions to actually listen to the zeitgeist. Dialogue is important, but so is listening to others—as a knowledge-gathering tool or when their perspectives differ from your own.” Abdalilah Qutub (Abdul Qutub)   Co-founder of Socially Condensed Fully-Built Enviromemes. “The role of the architectural critic today goes beyond the immediate issues surrounding a building, but also includes the larger ethical practices and impacts in which the participants in the architectural field might be involved. There are two main themes that are not really being fully addressed today: Workers’ rights issues and the overwhelming whiteness of the field. The dominance of white men now only further keeps alive the whiteness of the field that has been passed on by previous generations. Recent efforts within the #MeToo movement and the allegations that have recently come out against Richard Meier further reveal some of the underlying power structures in the field and how they are being abused. Criticism alone is not going to solve these problems without the provocation of direct action from the architectural and associated fields (strikes, demonstrations, and protests).” Nicholas Korody Co-founder of the experimental architecture practice Adjustments Agency, co-curator of the architecture store domesti.city, and editor-in-chief of the architecture publication Ed. “The role of the critic today is first and foremost to draw attention to the architecture of architecture—that is, the ways in which ‘architecture’ is not a given, but rather something constructed and therefore mutable. Within the discipline and profession, we take for granted that certain things, from exploitative labor practices to rampant sexism and even assault, come with the territory. They do not have to. Alongside this, we accept with little criticality the complicity of architecture with capital, with the end result that not only do we now design only for the select few, we also help fuel the conversion of our cities into playgrounds for speculative finance. This relationship is historically specific, and the role of the critic is to both point this out and to imagine alternatives. Critics today tend toward the myopic. They see a form and not what’s behind it: labor relations, environmental degradation, capital accumulation, displacement of people. Every act of construction has cascading effects far beyond the building site. Critics must contend with this. Broadly speaking, it is a conservative field. Many supposedly liberal or even leftist critics are in fact advocating for a maintenance of the status quo, which is a violent position to take. There are far too few voices demanding truly radical change within the discipline. Criticism is itself a form of practice, a way of imagining possibilities where others see none. Integral to that is looking far beyond the discipline, far beyond buildings. Most importantly, critics must take positions—albeit ones capable of change—and fight for them. Political neutrality does not exist. A good critic loves architecture so much they despise everything about it.” Ana María León Trained as an architect, León is a researcher and architecture historian at the University of Michigan. “Critics link the discipline not only to a broader audience, but also to larger concerns that often escape architecture’s purview. If good histories take a critical view of the past, good critiques are able to historicize the present. Our current political moment urgently needs more critical voices. Critics are still overwhelmingly white, male, and Western. This is not to say that white, male, Western critics are unable to look beyond their own identities, but representation matters, and a diversity of voices tends to insure a diversity of opinions and points of view. I would love it if say, The Architect’s Newspaper reached out to critics in South America, Africa, Asia, and asked them to review events and buildings there for a broader public.” Eva Franch i Gilabert Architect, educator, curator, founder of Office of Architectural Affairs (OOAA), current executive director of the Storefront for Art and Architecture and future director of the Architectural Association. “A critic is the historian of the present, or the present future, or as Reyner Banham’s intellectual biography points out, of the immediate future. To understand the power of architecture, unveil it, and transmit it to a larger audience is the most benevolent image of the critic, but the most seminal and most needed is to allow the field to find positions beyond obsessions; to position design culture in relation to the most important issues affecting contemporary culture and the built environment. Any critic needs to go beyond the cliché, the commonplace assumptions behind good design, and understand radical, powerful designs that are able to produce more equitable societies. A critic that is able to read beyond press releases, instant gratifications, three minute impressions of what should be and help us all imagine what actions, ideas, and form could be. The problems with criticism today are the same as the ones with architecture: it is extremely hard to go beyond client-oriented work, to produce designs that question the status quo and the forces at play. The making and buying of history in the PR age is an issue to be investigated thoroughly. It is extremely hard for editors, critics, and architects to keep a critical distance. While this might not be any different than in times past, at least I think there is now a more transparent understanding of sponsored articles, and the influence and power of certain lobbies. The real difficulty of being a critic is that we do not have editorial structures that support criticism in its full flesh. As in many other fields false criticism, sensationalism, scandalous headlines, ...are more in vogue than rigorous - maybe less sensationalist- forms of criticism. The problem is that bad criticism is more profitable in terms of business models; good criticism needs of idea models, less business models....”
Placeholder Alt Text

Sensor Center

Boston-area smart city aims at city’s booming tech sector
While tech giant Alphabet recently announced it would develop 12 acres of Toronto waterfront into a smart-city-technology testing ground, a similar undertaking has already begun 12 miles south of Boston. Developer LStar Ventures has big plans to turn this 1,500-acre site, dubbed Union Point (formerly South Weymouth Naval Air Station), into a “smart” development that will specially cater to technology companies. On the surface, the project is an eco-friendly exurban development with a leafy, bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly mixed-use master plan. In addition to offering housing, retail, residences, restaurants, three million square feet of office space, and eight million square feet of commercial development, Union Point would connect to Boston—and its booming tech industry scene—via a nearby MBTA commuter rail. Boston-based Elkus Manfredi and Watertown, Massachusetts–based Sasaki are master planning Union Point and working with engineering firms such as Arup, Vanderweil Engineers, and VHB on a range of sustainable features, including natural, on-site wastewater treatment systems. However, where Union Point really sets itself apart is in its information technology infrastructure. The city will lay the foundations for its tenants to use its streets and buildings as testing grounds for smart city technology. In addition to omnipresent wi-fi, “Union Point will have a site-wide fiber-optic cabling system to support commercial tenants, building assets, and IoT [Internet of Things] systems,” said David Wilts, associate principal and digital master planning leader at Arup. In other words, companies will be able to install sensors to collect data on air quality and building performance, and even be able to set up public digital signage. In this way, Union Point could easily support smart city ventures similar to Chicago’s Array of Things sensor network or New York City’s LinkNYC towers. The first stage of development is a $25 million sports complex designed by Elkus Manfredi and Sasaki that will feature multiple fields, including a rugby pitch, playground, park, restaurant, and renovated gymnasium. Including this complex was crucial in the two-year process of getting local communities on board with the development; its fields will be available to the three nearby towns at reduced leasing rates. Technology, however, is a notoriously fickle thing to design into a project. For example, the video-call screens installed in Korea’s smart city mega-development Songdo are already obsolete. But Union Point hopes to avoid that by only laying the groundwork for its tenants. “LStar Ventures aspires to be the leader in the practical application of technology that we know, that we can imagine, and that is beyond today’s imagination,” said David Manfredi, founding principal at Elkus Manfredi. “That is why the armature that we create must be flexible, durable, and adaptable over time.” The Boston-area is no stranger to smart city developments, as the 45-acre Cambridge Crossing tech hub was also unveiled this year.