Concern for Children

The concept of the junk playground was invented by a Danish landscape architect, Carl Theodor Sorensen, whose lifetime project was to transform the status of the park from an object of aesthetic contemplation into a site of active and participatory recreation. Following his observation that children were attracted to construction sites and junk yards, he proposed to enclose a space, supply it with building materials, discarded objects and tools, and allow the children to build the playground according to their own ideas and for their own pleasure.

Sorensen’s idea was first tested in 1943 during the German occupation, as part of a social housing project in Emdrup, Copenhagen. Play was seen as preventive in two ways: firstly, it prevented the so-called rough and difficult children from drifting into marginality by occupying them in constructive play. Secondly, there was an agreement that the occupation gave rise to delinquency because it created an atmosphere of moral confusion and blurred the distinction between sabotage and asocial behavior. To reinstate a sense of community, play was designed to encourage communal solidarity through the democratic practice of self-government. Although the housing estate management employed a play supervisor, he refrained from assuming a position of authority. Everyday dilemmas such as what to build and what to demolish, the sharing of tools and building materials, how to resolve disagreements and fights peacefully, were up to the participants themselves. Bertlesen, Emdrup’s first play leader, declared that ‘the initiative must come from the children themselves… I cannot, and indeed will not, teach the children anything.’ Hence they developed their own building projects, demolished them after they got tired of them, and began anew. Thus Sorensen commented that of all the landscapes he designed, the junk playground was by far the ugliest, but also the best, because of the kind of experience and pleasure it made possible, rather than its aesthetic contribution to the city.

Roy Kozlovsky, The Junk Playground: creative destruction as antidote to delinquency (2006)


The most artistic and no doubt the most inspiring project for allotment gardens was designed at Naerum Vaenge by Professor Sørensen in the 1950’s. He proposed individual oval-shaped gardens surrounded by different types of hedges, mainly of soft fruits, with summer houses set within the perimeter hedge. In practice, the allotments were surrounded with clipped hawthorn hedges, and the summer houses were placed inside the oval gardens, but this improved the concept rather than detracting from it. Although the layout of adjoining oval shaped gardens rather than detracting from it. Although the layout of adjoining oval shaped gardens appears to waste a lot of space, the remaining areas of mown grass were intended for use as a labyrinthine playground. It was his great concern for children that has characterized so much of Sørensen’s work.

 Jan Woudstra, Danish Landscape Design in the Modern Era  (1995)


Carl Theodor Sørensen, Oval Allotment Gardens in Nærum (1952)


Homo Ludens

PLAY is older than culture, for culture, however inadequately defined, always presupposes human society, and animals have not waited for man to teach them their playing. We can safely assert, even, that human civilization has added no essential feature to the general idea of play. Animals play just like men. We have only to watch young dogs to see that all the essentials of human play are present in their merry gambols. They invite one another to play by a certain ceremoniousness of attitude and gesture. They keep to the rule that you shall not bite, or not bite hard, your brother’s ear. They pretend to get terribly angry. And -what is most important- in all these doings they plainly experience tremendous fun and enjoyment. Such rompings of young dogs are only one of the simpler forms of animal play. There are other, much more highly developed forms: regular contests and beautiful performances before an admiring public.

Here we have at once a very important point: even in its simplest forms on the animal level, play is more than a mere physiological phenomenon or a psychological reflex. It goes beyond the confines of purely physical or purely biological activity. It is a significant function-that is to say, there is some sense to it. In play there is something “at play” which transcends the immediate needs of life and imparts meaning to the action. All play means something. If we call the active principle that makes up the essence of play, “instinct”, we explain nothing; if we call it “mind” or “will” we say too much. However we may regard it, the very fact that play has a meaning implies a non­ materialistic quality in the nature of the thing itself.

Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens (1938)


Indeed, playing as a non-just-children -activity has been a recognized social new configuration’s booster in the urban ambiance. Instead, cities seem to be constantly limited in its performative play production for functional reasons or maybe for the seeking of a conventional language that attracts as many people possible. Lefebvre, the Situationists, Fluxus and other groups have been for a long time, claiming for the need of this kind of spaces that seemed to be a menace to urban managers until recent times. 

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Florian Rivière, Hacktivist Dublin (2012)