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Exhibit: The World's Most Wild and Wonderful Playgrounds

Get out your bucket list for this exhibit on extraordinary playscapes, near and far

Author Elisa Murray

Published on: July 12, 2017

Portland's Westmoreland playground
Westmoreland Park in Portland features a 100 percent custom nature-based play environment where families build their own experiences, including sand and water, boulders and log features for fort-building. Courtesy of Greenworks and City of Portland
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Wild Walk
The Wild Walk, in Tuppers, New York, is part of an indoor and outdoor 81-acre campus at The Wild Center that delivers a new kind of museum experience — where visitors explore the treetops through a web of bridges and raised walkways that twist and turn through the forest. The experience includes a four-story twig tree house and swinging bridges, a giant spider’s web and chances to just sit and observe the forest below. Courtesy of the Wild Center
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The Land
The Land, an “adventure” or “junk” playground in Wales, deviates completely from standard safety-conscious playgrounds often seen in the U.S. Filled with piles of pallets, tires, wheelbarrows, fishing nets, ropes, fire pits, tools and other ever-changing materials, the playspace fosters “risky play” by encouraging kids to experiment with loose parts and create their own experiences. Courtesy of The Land
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The primary program for the Blaxland Riverside Park’s new playspace is gross motor play. Colorful mounds are sculpted to a 1:2 slope and reach up to three meters high, creating intriguing spatial and visual qualities that invite running, climbing, jumping and free play. As Sydney Olympic Parkland Authority’s (SOPA) response to the region’s growing demand for recreational facilities, the site’s design creates a constant flow of activity for children and caters to a wide range of ages and capabilities by providing graded play challenges. Photo by Brett Boardman
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Maggie Daley park, Chicago
Maggie Daley Park is a curvilinear, topographically dramatic, and diverse multi-functioning feature of downtown Chicago. With an ice skating “ribbon,” larger-than-life climbing structures, and a giant slides, the park synthesizes nature and fantasy to create a world of play with endless options for activity. Photo courtesy of Alex S. MacLean
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Artists at Play
Artists at Play is one of 10 Puget Sound playscapes included in the exhibit. Located under the Space Needle in the heart of the Seattle Center, Artists at Play provides an underserved, urban neighborhood with an art-filled play environment that is open to the public, free of charge, year-round. Photo credit: Stuart Isett
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Miner's Corner
Miner’s Corner in Bothell, one of 10 Puget Sound playscapes in the exhibit, is a 100 percent universally accessible hybrid playground, providing diverse opportunities for open-ended creative play to engage children of all ages, inclinations and abilities. The play area combines exciting features like a large ramp-accessible play structure in a unique nature-play setting. Photo credit: Snohomish County
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Duthie Hill
Issaquah's Duthie Hill, one of 10 Puget Sound playscapes in the exhibit, is a forest mountain bike park with 120 acres of rolling terrain and a wide range of features for all skill levels. Duthie’s Flow Park has the biggest concentration of freeride trails and features of any public riding area in the state.
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A giant, sculptural playscape in Spain inspired by Gulliver's Travels. A trail that sways, suspended, above the treetops in the Adirondacks. An "adventure playground" in Wales where kids can build, climb and even light fires with no parents in sight.

These are just of few of the experiences on view at Seattle's Center for Architecture and Design starting on Thursday, July 13, when its new exhibition, Extraordinary Playscapesopens. Through large-scale photographs, videos, play stations and interactive programs, it will showcase the design and features of the most imaginative, colorful playgrounds and playscapes in the world, and locally. 

Read more about amazing playgrounds and community-based play movements in ParentMap's July issue

The core of the exhibit is a collection of photographs, drawings, videos and installations from the Design Museum of Boston that features 10 of the most exciting, imaginative and groundbreaking playgrounds from around the world. The Center for Architecture and Design, however, supplemented the traveling exhibit with 10 Seattle-area examples of innovative playgrounds, chosen by a curatorial team of local professionals in architecture, playground design and Seattle Parks and Recreation.   

"It's a fun and accessible topic that anybody can relate to," says Lisa Richmond, executive director for the Center of Architecture and Design. The exhibition, she says, will highlight some of the invisible effects of innovative playground design, such as its impact on kids' physical and mental health. "There's a strong link between the way that we design buildings and places and neighborhoods and the public health outcomes."  

The selection of local playscapes ranges widely, from the inventive and accessible Miner's Corner playground in Bothell to the thrilling, artist-designed playground at Seattle Center to the Duthie Hill mountain biking park in Issaquah.

An exhibit that showcases the world's most wild and wonderful playgrounds without actually letting kids play on them is bound to result in some frustration, but luckily the Center will offer plenty of play opportunities onsite, including:

  • The “Imagination Playground” Big Blue Blocks Set a loose-parts set that allows children to fit together holes and shapes to build structures.
  • A custom-built playset will be available to practice parkour moves. 
  • A printed map of the local playgrounds in the exhibition will be available, with printed handouts available for families to take away the full local play list, so you can visit all the local examples on your own. 

If you go ...

When: Extraordinary Playscapes runs from July 13 through Sept. 2.; hours are Tuesday–Thursday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m., Friday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m., and Sunday, 1–5 p.m.

Where: The Center for Architecture and Design, 10101 Western Ave., Seattle

Cost: Free admission

Special exhibit programs:

  • Opening reception on Thursday, July 13, 5–8 p.m.
  • Family Fun Day on Saturday, July 15, 11 a.m.–4 p.m., which includes opportunities to try parkour with Parkour Visions from 10:30 a.m.–2 p.m.
  • CfAD Play Lab every Saturday from 1–4 p.m.

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