I spoke to Amanda Kolson Hurley at CityLab about five designs for children discussed in my book: Kiddicraft, the Tripp Trapp chair, Crow Island School, Aldo Van Eyck’s playgrounds, and False Creek South in Vancouver.
In the era of Marie Kondo, the streamlining of our material lives still runs into one big obstacle: parenthood. “To have a child is to be thrown suddenly, and I found rather miraculously, back into the world of stuff,” writes design critic Alexandra Lange in her new book, The Design of Childhood. As Lange and countless other parents discover, you might use a baby-monitor app and have episodes of Peppa Pig on the iPad, but living with children means swimming in a sea of tactile objects—teething necklaces and strollers, play kitchens and board books.
Just in time for Christmas 1956, Life magazine published a special issue, “The American Woman: Her Achievements and Troubles.” It is a curious, equivocal document, on the one hand celebrating women’s new freedom (as embodied by their ability to drive), on the other emphasizing the “duties and responsibilities” that come with freedom.
But one American woman, at least, saw no need to be the passive recipient of other’s innovations. On page 134, “To suit her own needs as mother, cook and laundress,” in her “Housewife’s House” she has placed the kitchen at the center, with a playroom on one side, dining area on another, and the living room on a third. Thanks to sponsorship from GE, her model kitchen comes with motorized shades, so that any side may be screened, along with up-to-date lemon yellow appliances.
Photos show what we would now refer to as a “breakfast bar,” to which kids (including her son Christopher) have pulled up wire-and-cord stools. Kids can help themselves to snacks via a small refrigerator accessed from the playroom side of the counter; there’s also a whole cork-covered wall to hold their pin-ups.
Perhaps the cleverest touch is in the entrance hall, where stainless-steel pans set into the floor make it easy to remove dirt from muddy boots, and mesh doors allow wet coats to dry. When you live in New England, and you’re the one cleaning, you think of such things.
Kurt Andersen accompanied Alexandra Lange (and her children) for a tour of The Hills on Governors Island to discuss the history of playgrounds. Part of a play-themed episode of Studio 360 that also covers Frisbees and Barbies.
It wouldn’t be much of a Play Week on Curbed without our resident expert’s take: Critic Alexandra Lange has been all over this beat in recent years, trekking to Noguchi’s last work, a mega-playground in Japan, and highlighting Aldo van Eyck’s progressive Dutch playgrounds. (This summer she also published, ahem, an entire book on the design of childhood, which scales from toy blocks to city blocks.)
Here, we’re excerpting a section from Lange’s book, The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Shapes Independent Kids, that delves into the adventure playground and its history in New York City. That’s right—there was a time in the not-too-distant past when parents let their scamper over concrete ziggurats and build their own play structures with hammers and nails. Intrigued? Read on!
“The next best thing to a playground designed entirely by children is a playground designed by an adult, but incorporating the possibility for children to create their own places within it,” architect Richard Dattner writes at the beginning of his case history for the West Sixty-Seventh Street Adventure Playground, one of five he would eventually design at the periphery of Central Park. Where Kahn and Noguchi failed before him, Dattner and landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg would succeed.
“Designing from Instagram for Instagram seems like a snake eating its own tail. Everywhere looks like everywhere else and the eye grows tired of bananas or concrete tiles or mirror rooms.”
Quoted in The Guardian on architecture and social media.
First on Tumblr, then on Instagram: frame-filling, deep-shadowed, looming edifices, gray and often looking perpetually damp, pocked by windows, frilled with balconies, enlivened by murals or supergraphics or plants.
But popularity breeds restlessness. Paul Rudolph’s bush-hammered walls? Been there. The Barbican? Done that. Boston City Hall? A thousand op-eds. Flaine? Boutique ski resort. Marina City? Album cover.
The eye needs to travel. So social media gave us more: bigger buildings, more flamboyant and flowing forms, more spectacular settings. Like Yugoslavia: first through the photographs of Jan Kempenaers, widely published in 2013, then through Instagram accounts like
_di_ma and socialistmodernism for a daily dose of concrete.
To an American audience the forms, names and locations were strange, adding to the abstraction and the othering headlines: “These 1970s brutalist buildings in Serbia look like Star Wars spaceships,” said Quartz, who filed them under the category “Futuristic Finds.”
It was as if a forest of concrete mushrooms had sprouted and grown to gargantuan size while we were otherwise occupied.