By: Hanan Rawashdeh
Architect Aldo Van Eyck from the Netherlands was one of the most influential protagonists of the architectural movement Structuralism. But what Aldo was most know for and wrote a book about “The shape of Relativity”, is his design for children’s playgrounds.
It was during the time after the world war two when Aldo first worked on the needed city expansion. Post war urban planning in the Netherlands took the ideal of functional separation, meaning that housing, work, traffic and recreation where to be functionally separated and integrally planned. This approach led to a city clogged up with car traffic. “Functionalism has killed creativity”, van Eyck stated in an article in the Dutch magazine Forum, “it leads to a cold technocracy, in which the human aspect is forgotten. A building is more than the sum of it’s functions; architecture has to facilitate human activity and promote social interaction”. His focus later on in his work field was directed to creating children’s play areas, especially with the birth peak of the postwar baby boom, whereas almost no space for children was available, neither inside nor outside the house.
Aldo argued that the need to create spaces for children was essential. That a city implies “the people that live there” – not “population”, therefore a need to create spaces for children is a fundamental aspect. Aldo wrote in his book, The Playgrounds and the City, “If they are not meant for children, they are not meant for citizens either. If they are not meant for citizens – ourselves – they are not cities.” He also said that a house is a tiny city, a city a huge house.
When Aldo was asked to design his first playground he took a very minimalist approach. It consisted of a sandpit with four round play stones and a set of tumbling bars. The play center was in one corner of the lot across from more tumbling bars and surrounded by trees and benches. He believed that designing simple geometric forms for children to play with stimulated their minds more. He once said to create an aluminum elephant for children to play with does not work because it is not real. By designing with an abstract approach he offered children the chance to explore, navigate, use their imagination and interact with the playful structures unlimitedly. His playground design was a success, and led him to designing over seven hundred playgrounds for Amsterdam. Places of large modular and simple basic equipment such as sandpits, tumbling bars, stepping stones, chutes, and hemispheric jungle gyms were nestled in the dead spaces of the city making it more social and human friendly.
Aldo also took care in implementing an unseen element in his designs, which was the open space. His designs always included an open space for children to run, jump and gather in, stimulating their minds and expanding their interaction with the play area. These playground designs played a huge psychological role in enhancing and lifting the children’s spirits after the hard times of the world war. To replace tension and stress with fun, fighting violence with enjoyment was a transitional opportunity served to the children of Amsterdam.
Once again architecture has proved that it plays a huge role as a way of living and affecting immensely on how we interact with each other and our environment. Either architecture was expressed as walls and shelter or simple skeletal structural forms arranged in a seemingly spontaneous way inviting us to engage with!