Serious Play

12/30/2009 Uncategorized


A 29-foot-long playground sculpture by Tom Otterness in a new park adjacent to two apartment developments on West 42nd Street

An article in the New York Times today about recent examples of art patronage by real estate developers included this photograph of a goofy-serious play-sculpture by Tom Otherness.  The design is not quite my cup of tea (it’s neither camp enough nor well-resolved enough as a design), but it provides some useful lessons as we continue to do planning for multi-building community development projects that include outdoor social and play spaces.  While it’s certainly true that off-the-shelf playground equipment has gotten much better (in terms of design and features), there still might be a place for customized approaches to installations that invite more open-ended and imaginative play than the jock-centric exercise apparatus of recently constructed playgrounds.

I have direct experience with this issue since my two children (ages 8 and 10) are in their waning days of extensive urban playground use.  In addition to their two favorite classic playgrounds – the Boston Common and Christopher Columbus Park on the Waterfront – they are also huge fans of Peter Walkers’ misting rocks (Tanner Fountain) at Harvard.  During the past four years, they have developed an elaborate leap-frog game that incorporates the risks and penalties of getting wet into the logic. No such ritualized play has been developed at the other locations.


Peter Walker, Tanner Fountain, Harvard University, 1984