Attached to the school of Østerhøj in Ballerup, (DK), there is a large solitary playground., which I was invited to reorganize in accordance with the ideas of children of the area. The new playground, developped through a listening proces in several stages, is based on the logic of a specific childrens game. In this game – ”The Earth is Poisonned” you are chased by someone else, but can not touch the ground while escaping. This gave the basic organisational principles for the new playground. (For full info, please scroll down.)
Realised in 2004 in collaboration with Jonas M Schul from Schul& co, by Danske Legepladser for Ballerup Kunstråd.
In Østerhøj there is a train station and a bus station. But the public domain is reduced to communal roads, walking paths and a local school. All buildings, apart from social housing estates, are private. The play-ground, linked to the school, is located right by an open non-built green area. If organized with this intention, the playground and schoolyard could actually reinstate into the suburban area, what is left out in the initial planning – a common heterotopic ground.
The invitation to me grew out of an incident two years earlier. A group of children from the school had sent a letter to the editor of the local paper. They complained that the playground was already run down and dangerous. The City Council responded by granting them the symbolic sum of 2000 kroners. A group of staff from the municipality heard about this, and were annoyed by the lack of respect. They re-applied for, and obtained funding of a new playground, designed in accordance with the wishes of the children.
I initiated a mapping of criteria for good play. Ninety children were asked to show me how their dream playground would look like. We used sand boxes, scaled as their playground. Some weeks later, I revisited and video-filmed all participating children in groups of 2-4 children at a time. I asked them to further elaborate the thoughts behind their particular proposals. From their responses I gathered list of criteria for a “good playground”.
I later re-presented this list to yet other groups of children from the neighbourhood with whom additional criteria’s were developed.
Jonas Schül and myself finally faithfully translated the list and the models, exhibited by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Køge in 2004, to a model of a new playground and then to a special version of a tendering material. Jonas Schül consequently performed the actual tendering rounds with children participating as full members of a selection committee.
The very organization of the playground contests and contradicts a traditional playground layout, normally based upon a zone-concept similar to that of the planning of new urban areas. In this playground you do not find separate stations for climbing and sliding, for swinging and for digging. Instead a game, called “Earth is poisoned” is the basic concept.
In this game, one is chased by someone else, but forbidden to touch the ground while chasing /escaping. This concept gave three basic organisational principles for the realised playground;
Firstly, one must be able to pass along all the different passages and paths all over the playground, without ever having to touch the ground.
Secondly, all paths must constantly divide in two. The person chasing, must never be able to tell which path you choose. All physical structures are for this reason also perforated, in all sorts of ways, in order for a child’s body to be able quickly to slip through.
Thirdly all in the playground is both integrated, and shaped in such a way, that it stays impossible to translate what they are, into verbal tongue. This secures an on-going re-definition, -which, according to the participating children – is the essence, a temporary, imaginative play. You can always slip out of a dead end, by simply changing the names for all things.
The highest wish of the children however, was in fact that grown-ups also would use the playground for Sunday morning leisure, local parties and picnics.
In their minds, a division of spaces between the generations – is a purely stupid idea. For them, a playground of course is not a playground. It is a space for another kind of time and being. For this reason, all what can be imagined as a castle, bench or ramp for skating, is also shaped so it as well can be perceived just as a nice place to sit for a while, and read your paper in the sun.