for some time, and thus the opportunity for encounters between strangers are higher than in many other public domains.

Playgrounds usually contain multiple artefacts that invite and encour-age participation. Some playground equipment even requests active ex-change to make sense, for example: swings, seesaws, ballgames and mer-ry-go-rounds; they have what Johan Asplund (1987) calls responsivitet (in English: responsivity, see also Chapter 2: p.94). Children themselves are effective mediators of exchange between guardians1 through ballgames, skating, scooting, etc. Many actions performed by children in playgrounds generate connections among guardians and other children watching the activities – a phenomenon William H. Whyte refers to as triangulation; i.e.

where an ‘external stimulus’, such as an object, a view or an event, initiates social exchange between two or more strangers (Whyte 1980:94; cf. Gehl [1971] 2011; Gehl & Svarre 2013).

The target group for playgrounds is usually children of different ages, from toddlers up to teenagers. Another target group, of course, comprises parents and other guardians, whose presence is a given in children’s pub-lic activities. The location, complexity and morphology of modern play-grounds are plural and diverse. In this study I have chosen to explore a collection of playgrounds in urban settings in central Amsterdam.

Various categories of play equipment are gathered in limited and often demarcated spaces in playgrounds. Each item, play field or space has its own program and agency, and together they produce a setting with com-plex qualities and affordances. From a planners’ perspective, lateral effects – such as a general production of social exchange – sometimes constitute the prime motives for the design, especially if the primary objective is to design a space for encounters and exchange, like a neighbourhood com-mon or community space (cf. Lefaivre 2007).

The objective of this chapter is not to analyse children’s play per se, nor the urban playgrounds as architectural designs as such. Rather, the aim is to explore the spatio-material topographies of urban playgrounds and their collection of play artefacts as grounds for social formation and exchange.

I am searching for important material actors that are active in these pro-cesses. Two further questions I strive to answer are: How do playground materialities support repetitive territorial appropriation and thus the stabili-sation of collectives and collective spaces? and How does material design effect the production of territorial complexity, diversity of uses and the attraction of varied categories of citizens?

1 Since I cannot be sure of the relationships between the people in my observations, I have chosen to label the adults that escort children ‘guardians’ and the children con-nected to specific guardians ‘protégés’ or simply children or teenagers.

Playgrounds can display numerous and obvious examples of collective life. Groups of playing children constitute obvious examples, and guard-ians gathering at the perimeter of a sandpit are another example. Groups of teenagers with skateboards, scooters and trick-bikes gather at playgrounds to perform tricks and improve their skills. These groups form temporary collectives with shared interests, even though the members might be of different ages and backgrounds. Children and guardians sometimes form teams (collectives) to perform various ball games. One focus in this study is how humans, spaces and artefacts produce collective spaces together. The playground can be perceived as an amalgamation of stronger and weaker temporal collectives. Individual humans move between these collectives during their visits to the playground. It is almost impossible not to belong to a collective of some kind in some sense.Aside from explicit play-arte-facts, playgrounds regularly offer various materialities that support parents and other guardians in mundane activities such as sitting, resting, picnick-ing, etc., and as shelters from wind, rain or sun during playground visits.

The study specifically investigates how certain (playground) materialities support recurrent territorial appropriations and tactics and thus affect the instigation and stabilisation of human/nonhuman collectives.

The choice of Amsterdam as my second study site was motivated by the city’s history as an epicentre for urban playgrounds in the second half of the 20th century. In 1947 it introduced a major initiative for establishing playgrounds all over the urban landscape. Over a thousand playgrounds were built in just over thirty years (Lefaivre 2007). Aldo van Eyck, Cornelis van Eesteren and Jacoba Mulder planned and designed more than 700 of them. These playgrounds became widely reputed in Europe as well as over-seas. Since the 1970s, a vast majority of the playgrounds have disappeared, partly due to the construction of new buildings on the infill plots where a number of the playgrounds were located. Today playground architecture is having a renaissance in several Dutch cities, not at least in Amsterdam.

Ambitious new playgrounds have been constructed over the past ten years, many of them heavily themed and multifunctional. When planning this field study, I chose to focus on playgrounds designed by “CARVE ontwerp en ingenieursbureau”; some of these playgrounds were designed in collab-oration with other firms. I also included a number of playgrounds by Aldo van Eyck in my preliminary case study plan.


Playgrounds can be understood as condensed and abstracted fragments of nature. Playground premises and equipment are inspired by natural topog-raphies, such as sandy beaches, rocks, woods and plains. Most play

equip-ment is inspired by things found in natural habitats. Sometimes they are displayed naturally, but they generally come in various stages of abstrac-tion. Play equipment is normally gathered in a defined space and supple-mented with seating opportunities (usually benches), primarily intended for escorting guardians (parents, grandparents, relatives, etc.). Playground designs can be based on a number of different materials and features: the ground, the play equipment, additional supportive infrastructures such as benches, tables, artificial lighting, covered spaces, litterbins, etc., and all these artefacts may vary in form, colour and material.

The intentions with playgrounds and the reasons for their existence are multifarious, but one major ambition is to encourage children’s physical practice, the training of their motoric and social abilities. More abstract and less apparent are the notions and knowledge about basic physics, such as fugal forces, friction, kinetics, gravity, geometry, etc. Playing with play-ground equipment is an investigation of the bodily and sensory experi-ences of space (Lefaivre 2007). Playgrounds are designed to evoke bodily reactions and provoke engagement with different material forms, such as playing with the responsivity of sand in the sandpit; using the body to explore gravity and fugal forces; experiencing the sensation of a stomach filled with butterflies when using the swings, or feeling the thrill of climb-ing a wooden tower and the speed of goclimb-ing down a slide (experiencclimb-ing the laws of friction). Through play, we train the coordination of our senses and our bodies, muscle control and balance. At the same time, we can learn the basics of physics and our physical relation to the material world.

Unfortunately, many material effects and tactile dimensions are neglect-ed in modern playgrounds due to the use of artificial materials and some-times comprehensive (however well-intended) safety regulations. Popular soft ground materials and the bright-coloured rubber coating that covers most playground equipment limit the range of material diversity and thus the variety of sensations one can experience in a playground. The entangle-ment with icy cold metal bars or swing-chains in early spring, wet and slip-pery tree-logs on a rainy day in October, or the smell of warm rubber from the car-tyre swings a hot summer day constitute experiences that guide a very basic understanding of the material world. The smell, taste and tactile sensations of different fractions of sand in the sandpit stay in most people’s childhood memories for life. We know with a touch of sand what its level of moisture is and what we can manage to build with it. Today, playground equipment is usually heavily plastic-coated or painted with thick layers of weather-resistant paint that takes away most of the materials’ intrinsic tactile properties. Tom Fisher (2004) argues that the cognitive strategies one needs to realise material affordances are shaped in childhood. He states

that from a “Gibsonian perspective, this sort of physical exploration ear-ly in life furnishes us with our repertoire for understanding the physical qualities of objects and their materials” (Fisher 2004:25). The physiolog-ical aspects of playground play have a clearly subordinated significance in my study, but these facts might be important as a backdrop for the social aspects that are my prime objective. Playgrounds are spaces where children train their social abilities in the interaction with other children and adults.

The social activities and exchanges between humans of all ages are related to the entanglement with various materialities, which justifies a close study of the urban playground typology and its topographies.

Preliminary Notions:

Mapping Amsterdam’s Playgrounds

On a regular field-study day, I took a tour on foot, passing four to six play-grounds with a major stop at the Van Beuningenplein. At the playplay-grounds, I moved about in different speeds, observing what was going on, using my camera to record different situations and events where interesting human/

material as well as human/human exchange occurred. I positioned myself in the centre of the sites as well as on the periphery, sitting or standing for longer periods of time. At Van Beuningenplein I had coffee and lunch as often as I could, partly because a bistro on the premises made it possible, and partly because it gave me opportunities to participate in the everyday actions at the site. Having finished my daily tours, I spent a couple of


hours in various cafés and bars reflecting over my observations, organising my notes and planning the next day’s route.

Most of the playgrounds that I covered on my walks all over the west-ern part of the city were empty or only had a few visitors. From what it seemed, Van Beuningenplein is always populated and used, at least after ten o’clock in the mornings. It seems as though the size of a playground like Van Beuningenplein may imply a critical mass effect; i.e. people are attracted to the space because they know that there probably are others there already. After two days, I concluded that Van Beuningenplein was to become my primary study site. Not only was Van Beuningenplein play-ground by far the most frequented playplay-ground, it also offered the most varied palette of activities and uses – two major motives to choose it for more extensive observations and a deeper analysis.

Because of an unusually late spring, the temperatures were low and not as many people were out playing as I had wished for when I was plan-ning the field study trip. In addition to the low temperatures, the winds were strong, not inspiring people to be outdoors at all. In spite of these circumstances there were sufficient observations to make sense of the site-study spaces from my research perspectives. The weather the 2nd and 3rd of April was sunny but cold and windy. The temperature at 11am was about 3-5 degrees Celsius; in the afternoons it rose to about 7-8 degrees. The playground was relatively crowded on the afternoon of the 3rd of April, probably due to the fact that the schools in Amsterdam are regularly closed on Wednesday afternoons. The 4th and 5th of April were still windy and

In document Clustering Architectures: The Role of Materialities for Emerging Collectives in the Public Domain Magnusson, Jesper (Page 163-168)