Skateboarding appeals to a wide age range, and although some cities discourage it, in Malmö it’s embraced. The Swedish town has a full-time skateboard agent and a myriad of skate-friendly spots. The British seaside town of Folkestone is also making its mark. F51, a multi-storey indoor skate park, is set to open there this spring. “The game doesn’t just stop when you get old,” says F51 architect Guy Holloway. “If anything, you should make sure you can incorporate even more play.”
The idea behind these inclusive spaces is reflected in Pinterest’s playful trend for 2022. The image-sharing service predicts that “this year, Gen Xers and baby boomers will be all over playful pastimes like swing sets. indoors…because crafts and toys keep fat kids young at heart.”
While playgrounds are designed to be exciting and unique, they can fulfill other roles. Malmö families pass through the city to visit its network of individual theme parks, making it a driving force for social exchange, ArkDes’ Long says. “It breaks down the barriers between the various communities.”
However, in places where there is a shortage of housing, playgrounds can suffer. Brunge points out that even in some relatively well-funded parts of Scandinavia, playgrounds are under pressure. “In the new dense housing areas (of Sweden) it is difficult to get space big enough for things like kindergartens, schools, playgrounds and parks. Parks are getting smaller and with heavy logging, more people are using them. This has meant that we are struggling to sustain natural vegetation such as lawns, flowers and shrubs due to wear and tear.” Long echoes this. “Now it’s a watered down, ‘let’s make beautiful play equipment’ version. The radical past isn’t so vivid now.”
Brunge is also concerned that “we are moving more and more towards playgrounds designed in accordance with safety regulations, which is of course important. But I think we have to be careful not to lose what it means being a developing child at the cost of always keeping them safe”. Guy Holloway feels the same. “Although the world is getting safer in many ways, we wrap our children in what feels like cotton to protect them all the time, and they lose that ability to play without fear. He describes F51 as a “controlled adrenaline rig”, adding that “it’s what youngsters need to be able to play properly”.
Sørensen’s designs reflected the modernist movement and included strong geometric shapes and graceful reliefs. But it wasn’t just the Scandinavian modernists who brought geometry into play. According to Florence Ostend, curator of the recent Noguchi exhibition at the Barbican, the playground designs of the late Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi often referenced geometry and science. She cites “triangulated structures like the tetrahedron, which [Noguchi’s] close friend R Buckminster Fuller conceived as “a minimum structural system of the Universe”.
His play equipment graced Moerenuma Park in Japan, and in 2019 Danish artist Danh Vo placed Noguchi’s Play Sculpture – an undulating red loop of six tall pipes – in the grounds of Pelican Estate in south London , creating a place where residents can play, climb and rest. “Noguchi’s fundamental contribution to playground design lies in the free, open and improvisational nature of our relationship to space and environment,” adds Ostend, whose exhibition will travel to Cologne, Bern and Lille.
While space and funds for playgrounds can be under pressure, playgrounds that even nod to their radical roots are highly valued. The Nordics’ love of foraging can be seen in the design of some Helsinki playgrounds and youth centers, where edible plants have been grown.