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Isamu Noguchi’s Playscapes in Atlanta, Georgia

View of the playground from behind the slide Children climbing the slide at Noguchi's Playscapes Child on the top of the slide at Noguchi's Playscapes Child running across the domed form at Noguchi's Playscapes View of the entire play space at Noguchi's Playscapes Children on the swings at Noguchi's Playscapes

The way we travel has changed a bit since having children, and the single largest shift involves making time to find and explore new playgrounds. My husband grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and on a recent visit to spend time with his parents, who still live there, we spent a morning at Isamu Noguchi’s Playscapes in Piedmont Park. I hadn’t previously heard of the playground, but my father-in-law brought it to my attention after we visited the Noguchi Museum near our home in New York. He fondly recalled bringing my husband to the Playscapes as a child, and if our visit is any indication, it’s quite safe to say that more than 30 years later the playground continues to delight the next generation of children.

Nestled in the much larger Piedmont Park, Playscapes’s brightly-colored architectural forms rendered in painted steel and concrete are easy to spot as you approach. Though best-known for his collaborations with Herman Miller and his work as a sculptor, Noguchi spent a great deal of time thinking about and studying the way children play. Playscapes is a the result of decade’s worth of work exploring the intersection of children, movement, and nature, and it is the only one of his playground designs built in the US during his lifetime. Opened in 1976 as a joint endeavor between Atlanta’s High Museum of Art and the National Endowment for the Arts, Playscapes made art accessible to people from all walks of life in a public space and helped set the precedent for bringing art and people together in public spaces that continues to define urban development and redevelopment in the United States today.

Interior of the twisted slide at Noguchi's Playscapes Two children climbing on the green structure at Noguchi's Playscapes Climbing blocks at Noguchi's Playscapes Two children on the climbing blocks at Noguchi's Playscapes

While elements of the playground like the slides, swings, and climbing structures, may have seemed familiar at first glance when we arrived, their designs and execution revealed themselves upon further examination to be quite different than most playgrounds we’re accustomed to. The elemental forms – cubes, triangles, circles, and cylinders – left a great deal of room for creatively-driven play, and the solid block colors of the structures helped to reinforce their physical presence in the more sylvan setting of the park. Noguchi’s statement, “I think of playgrounds as a primer of shapes and functions; simple, mysterious, and evocative; thus educational,” helps explain, for me, the difference in having an artist design a playground: instead of working children through prescribed situations, a more restrained and fundamental series of forms allows for self-discovery and a sense of continued wonder.

And wonder we did! The large concrete cubes, painted blue and green, were a huge hit with my two (climbing on, jumping off, jumping between!), as was the imposing three-part slide, with the upper reaches accessed by tall ladders. A series of intersecting low, concrete walls with pops of color runs along the western edge of the site, and we spent time running through them and walking on top of them before returning to the stepped swings and the twisting slide, reached by climbing a set of spiral stairs that wind up the center of a white tower.

Our visit made me wonder what other artist-designed playgrounds might be out there. Have you been to one that you loved? Or have you come across a playground that struck you as creative and left room for child-driven exploration? Do share, I’d love to hear!

-Shannon


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