The original playgrounds constructed in post-war Britain are mostly forgotten. Brutalism and its initial social agenda are stigmatized. The architectural style known as Brutalism emerged during the era of post-war reconstruction in Britain. In expressively shaped buildings constructed out of raw, heavy materials, it espoused an uncompromising formal language. All over the country, large-scale housing estates were built with distinctively designed playgrounds for children. Through the use of wood, brick, and especially concrete, the playgrounds were designed to fit in with the shapes and materials of their environments, demonstrating the principles of Brutalism on a small scale.
The Brutalist Playground
January 14 – April 16, 2017
Vitra Design Museum
Charles-Eames-Straße 2, Weil am Rhein
The exhibition reconstructs fragments from four Brutalist playgrounds: the »flying saucer« from the Churchill Gardens Estate, the slide tower from the Brownfield Estate, steps from the Brunel Estate (all in London), and a tunnel from the Park Hill Estate in Sheffield.
For the project, commissioned by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the architecture collective Assemble in cooperation with the artist Simon Terrill chose a selection of drawings and photographs from the RIBA collections. Part architectural installation, part projections of archive material, part playground, the exhibition brings a neglected aspect of architectural history into the gallery space.
»Risk« and »play« are the central themes of the installation. Jane Hall from Assemble says: »You would look at the photographs of these playgrounds and ask: How was someone supposed to play on that? It’s not prescribed, and that’s the big unknown about this exhibition – how are people going to inhabit the space?«
Architects and urban planners advocated these kinds of playgrounds as places where children could play as freely as possible. But by the early 1970s these concepts had been discarded and were being criticised by both architects and educators. As a result, many of the playgrounds are now lost. Consigned to the archives, they are at most a footnote to an idiosyncrasy in the history of post-war architecture.
»The Brutalist Playground« enables a new, unbiased perspective on the original goals and designs of the architects of the time. In the exhibition children have the opportunity to »give free rein to their imagination«, just as the original architects intended. But adults, too, are invited to discover the play- scapes of the 1950s–1970s and the architectural ideas expressed in them.