The Dutch Structuralist architect Aldo van Eyck left his mark in Amsterdam – not only in the form of buildings but also, perhaps surprisingly, in the form of urban playgrounds. Over the course of his career he created a network of more than 700 playgrounds throughout the capital. Today, only a handful of these remain intact. A special publication, compiled by Denisa Kollarova and Anna van Lingen, revisits the seventeen remaining Van Eyck playgrounds in Amsterdam’s city centre. The following extract from the book seeks to introduce the project, and describe its urgency.
We live in an era in which there are not many carefully constructed playgrounds. We don’t like what we see. Have we—city decision makers, architects, designers, parents, friends —forgotten to be critical?
There are so many architects, artists and thinkers of the past who have proven that a playground can be much more than just generic plastic structures placed randomly, constructed by simply flipping through the pages of play equipment catalogues. One of them is Aldo van Eyck, who designed a large number of public playgrounds for the city of Amsterdam.
His playgrounds are something that all children growing up in Amsterdam in the ‘50s, 60’s and 70’s are familiar with. They played in the concrete sandpits, hung upside down on the tumbling bars or invented games in the igloo shaped climbing frames. Van Eyck’s playgrounds were a recognizable aspect of the city and at a certain moment there were over seven hundred different playgrounds throughout Amsterdam.
Aldo van Eyck, Seventeen Playgrounds is a tour guide that brings you to several of these playgrounds in the centre of Amsterdam. The publication consists of seventeen chapters; per location we ‘guide’ you through a certain aspect of Aldo van Eyck’s designs for children. Some of the playgrounds in this book are still intact, others share their space with new play equipment and some have completely been modernized, only referring to Van Eyck with a lost climbing frame or a few jumping stones and the fact that a playground remains on a spot that Van Eyck once turned into a play space.
Today his playgrounds are rapidly disappearing and a new type of play equipment is taking over. Bright colours, plastic structures and animal-shaped elements seem to have set the tone, leaving little room for the imagination of the children using them. We feel that this change—and this is not only occurring in Amsterdam but is something cities worldwide are dealing with—is a huge loss.
It is of great importance that we—citizens, parents, designers, architects, city decision makers—realise the necessity of high quality playgrounds. Aldo van Eyck’s work should be preserved so that it can function as an inspiration. Not only do we plead for the preservation of his playgrounds, but we hope that with this example of how to properly design for children, we can stimulate others to follow in his footsteps.
Parents should be invited to make demands for better playgrounds. City decision makers, designers and architects should realise that children are as important as other members of our society and that playgrounds are therefore as important as any other aspect of the public space. May all Dutch and foreign citizens feel free to join our mission: let’s give children the chance to grow up with the stimulating playgrounds that they deserve.
Making Playgrounds Public
After many complaints about poor playing conditions for children in Amsterdam, upper-class citizens created the first playground of the city in 1880 on the Eerste Weteringplantsoen. Not much later a few playground-trusts arose throughout the city. Access to these supervised and closed-off play- grounds was restricted by membership. Apart from these there were barely any public playgrounds. Children played in the city’s parks with its many rules, on unsafe construction sites and on the streets. But the latter became difficult with the increasing number of cars that slowly drove them off the streets. Furthermore the post-war baby boom created a need for more space and better playing conditions for the city’s children: it became clear that changes had to be made.
Jakoba Mulder, second in charge of the Public Works Department, started the process of making playgrounds public. In 1947 she commissioned Van Eyck to design the first public playground, an experiment that became a huge success. From then on the department made sure that each neighbourhood was provided with at least one public playground. In total Van Eyck designed over seven hundred playgrounds (1947-1978) that together created a web throughout Amsterdam, giving children their own recognizable domain in the city.
You can purchase the book here.