TEXT | Edited by Liane Lefaivre, Ingeborg de Roode
Aldo van Eyck, an architect from the Netherlands, began working for the local authority in Amsterdam in 1947 to design playgrounds all around the city. Van Eyck’s playground design favored simple geometric objects and organizations. The objects were not specific by themselves but had open function and therefore stimulated a child’s imagination.
During the 1950s and 1960s van Eyck designed over 700 playgrounds that were constructed throughout Amsterdam. Each of the playgrounds were specifically designed according to their location and context to the street. The locations of the playgrounds were chosen by the city and ranged from abandoned lots to extensions of the sidewalk.
Image: Before and after image of playground on city sidewalk
Van Boetzelaerstraat, Staatsliedenbuurt, Amsterdam-Oudwest, 1961, 1964
Four components were essential to van Eyck’s playgrounds: the concrete sandpit, the somersault and climbing frames, the concrete play tables, and the benches. (85)
Small solid elements: cylindrical blocks of concrete 65cm in diameter arranged in a row or in a group that could be used as seats to gather round, or as stepping and jumping stones. The solid concrete elements contrasted with the slender metal climbing elements. (67)
Image: Climbing Dome (1956) and Climbing Funnels (1957)
“Van Eyck limited himself to this kind of stable, elementary form for more than one reason. He was opposed to play objects in the shape of imaginary animals because they do not belong in the city and they shut the imagination down rather than activating it.” (67-70)
Van Eyck designed playgrounds in Amsterdam from 1947 – 1978. Few of the playgrounds that van Eyck designed are still in Amsterdam or have since been modified barely resembling the playground designed by van Eyck. The playgrounds were taken over as space in the city became scarce and also as playgrounds became neglected and unused as populations of children in certain areas of the city decreased.
The playgrounds provided children a space of their own within the dense city. Although, as the public street condition was considered less safe for unaccompanied children and the proliferation of the car, the public playground was a less desirable location for children.
“Van Eyck was also commissioned to design many play gardens and other type of play area (for example for volleyball, basketball, and roller skating, which were sometimes combined with playgrounds). Play gardens were run by private associations, most of which were members of the Amsterdam Play Garden Association (ASV), but it was the local authority that usually commissioned their construction. The play gardens were characterized by the combination of static and moving play objects. Apart from the roundabout, swings, merry-go-rounds and similar objects were prohibited in public playgrounds because of the risk of accidents. There was thus a clear-cut distinction between play gardens and playgrounds. In the play gardens van Eyck combined his own designs as he chose with play objects (swings, slides) produced by the Department of Public Works itself or ordered from the catalogue of a manufacturer, such as the revolving drums.” (93)
The cultivation of a child’s imagination was the main objective of van Eyck’s playground designs. Van Eyck’s use of simple geometries for playground objects was to foster to children’s imaginations. In comparison to the designing of objects in the shape of animals which was thought to shut down the child’s imagination. The less the objects of the playground implied the greater the opportunity there was for that object to be anything else for the child playing.
The safety of children in public spaces is a great concern of guardians. The playgrounds in Amsterdam that van Eyck built during the 50s and 60s became underutilized as areas with children grew up and the playgrounds were not maintained and also as more cars began to occupy the streets. The child could no longer explore the streets unaccompanied. The activity of children was heading in a direction of structured play time where children would meet other children they knew in private play areas. The model of the “play garden” and other current forms of private play areas such as the home or daycare provide a level of safety with surveillance and known participants.
The model of “secure play” with known children and a secure environment seems ideal for the cultivation of video game play. Video game play typically occurs indoors because of the need for electric and a monitor. This type of activity can also occur within the security of someone’s home while maintaining a large number of participants. Although, the switch to organized play times with other children that are known dissolves the opportunities that children are afforded at a public park, such as meeting children of other ages, cultures, and skill sets.