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Playground design is a grave matter for architects, artists and those who collaborate to set up these places of freedom and imagination

I like to play, said Umberto Eco, but I always do it seriously. Children play even in the playgrounds scattered in squares, streets, and residual spaces of the cities. However, their design is a grave matter for architects, artists, and those who collaborate to set up these places of freedom and imagination.

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Domitilla Dardi - historian and senior curator for design at MAXXI in Rome - started from this consideration to organize the “Playgrounding” exhibition at Fuorisalone 2022 in Milan, where nine international authors/groups interpret the contemporary playground. Then she went further, demonstrating that a playground is not only simple equipment to satisfy urban planning standards, but it is “a symbolic form in all respects that brings us to the anthropological heart of our social relations.” Occupying a fragment of public land, this space conditions the behaviors, feelings, and reactions of children but also adults. Thinking that these places are reserved only for children would be an understatement.

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published by Corraini, and with images, among others, by Stefano Cerio and Fujio Kito. The extensive and fascinating introductory essay is followed by the commented publication of the nine projects featured in the exhibition.

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From their reading, there is a lot to learn about a theme that has always been wrongly judged as minor and ephemeral compared to more critical project types. Above all, we should note the almost total lack of interest that playground has had within the Modern Movement, which has also dealt extensively with public space. In the end, Le Corbusier's thesis won. In his urban vision, he relegated the playground and the vegetation to the areas below and at the top of the buildings, as evidenced by his building manifesto, the Unité d'habitation.

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 In the rare cases in which the playground has had its autonomy, it has been isolated from the urban context with unnecessary and counterproductive fences. The only modern architect who showed great sensitivity and attention was the Dutchman Aldo Van Eyck, who created over 400 playgrounds in Amsterdam. In Italy, Enzo Mari and Riccardo Dalisi in the sixties made experimental proposals of some interest, respectively, in Carrara and the Traiano district in Naples. In short, Dardi's work seems to tell us that the playground awaits renewed interest from architectural culture.

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Meanwhile, many ideas and suggestions are already present in the book and the exhibition. Paul Cox proposes a theatrical backdrop, with the silhouettes of characters on which the spectators experiment improvised texts;

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Matali Crasset designs tree-shaped structures on which to climb and play freely; Konstantin Grcic thinks of a house in which he "learns by playing"; Martí Guixé entrusts the game to a path through doors whose opening in succession suggests a change of roles; Lemonot (Sabrina Morreale and Lorenzo Perri) lead visitors through utopian and science fiction urban scenarios;

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Gianluca Malgeri and Arina Endo - influenced by Japanese tradition (they live in Japan) - look at trees as great natural architectures in whose branches the fragments of an adventure park seem to be entangled: from bird houses to swings to roller coasters to carousels which become blades of fantastic windmills;

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Studio Ossidiana proposes a Fun Palace (well-known project for a multipurpose theater by Cedric Price) floating aimlessly on a pond, to discover submerged and emerged places; Parasite 2.0 invent a user manual to create a home playground / nightclub; Olimpia Zagnoli looks at Bomarzo, and the tradition of monster parks, by proposing two gigantic anthropomorphic details: armpits that spray water and ears for sound games produced by the visitors themselves.

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Thanks to this book and exhibition, we hope that the playground theme will receive new reasons of interest to be brought back to the attention of local administrators, who have to foresee them, and of the architects, who have to design them.


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