🎧 From ball pits to water slides: the designer who changed children’s playgrounds for ever

Listened From ball pits to water slides: the designer who changed children’s playgrounds for ever – podcast from the Guardian

Eric McMillan revolutionised playground design in the 1970s. Why has the spirit of experimental play that he championed been lost?

Nicholas Hune-Brown explores the legacy of Eric McMillan and his revolution of playgrounds in the 1970’s. He was responsible for designing for designing Children’s Village in Ontario.

At Children’s Village, McMillan built two and a half acres of mayhem under an orange canopy – reproducing in the safety of Toronto his feral childhood spent scrabbling through rubble, with mountains of colourful vinyl and foam. He erected an enormous spider web structure that hung from soaring watchtowers. He built a series of wooden ladders that spun on their axes, hurling would-be climbers to the mats below. He strung swinging monkey bars over a pool of water and suspended a forest of punching bags at the centre of the village that was, for decades, the most reliable producer of bloody noses in Toronto.

However, Hune-Brown explains that as time passed, creativity was replaced by concern about liability:

If the design for children in the 60s and 70s had been full of possibility and experimentation, the prevailing mood in the 1980s was of caution. “In the 80s, there was this real turn towards a safety culture,” says Lange. “We tamped down on a lot of innovation and a lot of the risk and reward of the children’s environment.” After a series of lawsuits against playgrounds, “liability”, not “creativity”, became the most important word in children’s design. The adventure playgrounds that once dotted North America were shuttered. The massive wooden jungle gyms in schoolyards were replaced with modest climbing structures.

It is interesting to think about this alongside reflections by Brendan HyndmanNarissa Leung, Adrian Camm and John Johnston on educational play spaces.

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