Playgrounds are meant to stimulate play, but most are designed and built based on grown-ups’ notions of children and how they should behave. With Play Contract, the balance of power is tipped, and now it’s the children’s turn to devise a playful space for themselves and grown-ups. What kinds of play equipment should be in such a playground? What kind of playground would they like to have when they grow up? A group of 122 children in Billund, Denmark was given 100,000 pink LEGO bricks, which they used to design models for playgrounds. These models were then analyzed by size, layout, and the kind of physical activity they encourage. This information was synthesized into five final designs, which were then constructed in pink marble. The result is a collage of adventurous ideas and whimsical shapes that have been transformed into Play Contract. Here, grown-ups can climb, crawl, jump, and run without inhibitions. They can let go of grown-up concerns. At the same time, the artwork can also be a site of repose and conversation, a forum to rethink and redefine the idea of play. Informed by the children’s thoughts about play, a contract was prepared and carved into the sculptures. It functions as a set of universal rules for how to play within the work. Within Play Contract, the grown-ups must agree to embrace their sense of the absurd and to abide by children’s sense of time. Clocks have no power: time is flexible and deadlines are meaningless. Games last as long as they should. Acknowledging the artistic agency of children, Play Contract was designed based on their ideas and viewpoints. With curiosity and creativity, the children have explored what it means to be a playful grown-up, and how a playground can be designed to invite everyone to play.
ANALYSIS: Children’s models were comprehensively analysed across several categories: from basic size and height into Layout Typologies, where models were divided across Scattered, Linear, Compact, and Enclosed (and within these categories, identified as Orthogonal versus Oblique and Symmetrical versus Asymmetrical). Children’s text and drawings helped understand the proposed Play Typologies, identifying Individual and Collective Play, Exercise, Rest or Experience and across these, actions: Swim, Climb, Jump, Read, Eat, Sit, Slide, Swing or Draw. Finally, the Formal Typology analysis allowed for the division of the models into elements: Steps, Gates, Bridges, Walls, Decks, Pavilions, Towers, Pyramids, Furniture, Exercise or Playground Equipment.
DEVELOPMENT: The trove of data acquired during the analysis phase was the basis for an equally methodical development process. The process was to generate a unique result from the children’s models while retaining everyone’s ideas: all models were carefully traced, and multiple combinations were layered and intersected into new configurations. These were combined further composing a unique model which could be divided into six of the most prevalent Formal Typologies: Pavilion, Amphitheatre, Tower, Bridge, Gate and Landscape. The following detailing process returned many of the singularities identified in the initial models: plays of proportion and scale, decorative elements, architectural components such as steps, doorways, windows and furniture, suggested functionalities as well as nonsensical impossibilities. Reinstating the original geometrical complexity allows for every child to find their own proposals within Play Contract.
LANDSCAPE: The Landscape worked as a device to further ground the artwork: a new series of combined models were overlaid across the site precisely framing each work. These fragments, walls and floors extended a reversed archaeological approach: at the end it is as if every model of every child is there composing a city, of which parts have been carefully uncovered for what is to be a new everlasting future.
MATERIAL: While seeking for a material that could carry a timeless character and extend the singularity of the artwork, pink marble was identified as that which could add to the intrigue: who made these structures, when were they made and what were they made for? Visits to quarries and workshops informed how the material was to be used, retaining both natural traces as well as man-made processing imperfections. Finishes were kept to a minimum while much of the history of each of these large, impressive rock blocks was preserved. Its complex surfaces can be quiet, reflect the morning sun or be the canvas for a shadow play – and when it rains, the colour changes.