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.