Come play at the RIBA’s Brutalist Playground by Assemble and Simon Terrill

The Brutalist Playground
Opening to the public today, the RIBA's latest show, The Brutalist Playground, was created by Turner Prize nominees Assemble and artist Simon Terrill. Images for RIBA
(Image credit: Tristan Fewings, Getty)

Summer is synonymous to playing outside and in keeping with the season, an exciting new exhibition at London's RIBA headquarters looks into contemporary issues surrounding play through a decidedly architectural lens. The brainchild of recent Turner Prize-nominees Assemble, the 2010-established architecture and design collective based in East London, and artist Simon Terrill, The Brutalist Playground is a comment, or homage, to the playgrounds built for mid-twentieth century housing, which are now largely considered unsuitable for play.

Traditionally cast in concrete, a material today near-unthinkable for a children's playground, the complexes are often beautiful, sculptural pieces, evoking 'a disappearing world of concrete mazes and windswept walkways' as Terrill explains. The team documented these abstract compositions, scattered in various London locations. References include estates such as Churchill Gardens in Pimlico and the Brownfield Estate in Poplar. The team worked closely with the RIBA collections to project archive images of the original playgrounds on the walls.

Examining the playgrounds of post-war urbanity, the display is a landscape of shapes and colours - and one that the visitor can explore first hand, as guests are invited to take their shoes off and jump into the exhibit. There are steps, a tower and mini bollard-stools, as well as a 'flying saucer', echoing the one at Churchill Gardens, which, the team reveals, 'is what started the exhibition'. 'These structures are immobile and it is the movement of the visitors that makes them exciting,' says Assemble's Jane Hall.

The exhibition, described by the RIBA as 'part-sculpture, part-architectural installation', takes over the entire Architecture Gallery. Created out of chip foam, it looks rigid and hard, but up-close feels soft and welcoming. As such, it plays with ideas of safety and risk-taking on the playground. 'It is a bit tongue in cheek but we played by the rules,' says Assemble's Joe Halligan. 'Is risk a bad thing?' he asks.

A wide-ranging public program of talks, debates, film screenings, workshops and events for families will accompany the show, which is also an official part of the 2015 London Festival of Architecture.

London playgrounds

The show features abstract shapes that reference existing London playgrounds, such as the 'flying saucer', found in Pimlico's Churchill Gardens by Powell and Moya. Images for RIBA

(Image credit: Tristan Fewings, Getty)

Brutalist Playground

It may seem hard, at first glance, but the installation is in fact soft and welcoming, clad in foam. Images for RIBA

(Image credit: Tristan Fewings, Getty)

The installation first hand

Visitors are encouraged to take their shoes off and explore the installation first hand. Images for RIBA

(Image credit: Tristan Fewings, Getty)

Paying homage

Paying homage to London's mid-20th-century housing estates' playgrounds, the installation will be on view throughout the summer. Images for RIBA

(Image credit: Tristan Fewings, Getty)

The Balfron Tower

The Balfron Tower's concrete playground provided inspitation for the team.

(Image credit: Assemble and Simon Terrill)

The Churchill Gardens

The Churchill Gardens estate in West London has one of the capital's most recognisable modernist playgrounds.

(Image credit: John Donat, RIBA Library Photographs Collection)

Churchill Gardens

Churchill Gardens' 'flying saucer' is echoed in the installation's structure.

(Image credit: John Maltby, RIBA Library Photographs Collection)


Architecture Gallery at RIBA
66 Portland Place
London, W1


Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture & Environment Director at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018), Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020) and House London (2022).