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