A BRIEF HISTORY OF ADVENTURE PLAYGROUNDS

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ADVENTURE PLAYGROUNDS

Adventure playgrounds have existed for over sixty years.  C. T. Sørenson, a civically-minded Danish landscape architect, first proposed the creation of a ‘waste material playgrounds in suitable large areas where children would be able to play with old cars, boxes, and timber’ in his 1931 book Park Planning for Town and Country. The first known playground of this type took shape at Emdrupvej,  Denmark, in the mid-1940s as a place where young people could play freely without inciting the German occupying forces.  Following the successes of the playground at Empdrup, waste material playgrounds took root in culturally-specific forms throughout Denmark, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, and even in the United States.  It was in the United Kingdom -- were playwork has taken on a professionalized role -- that the term ‘adventure playground’ was born.

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Images on this page from the Donne Buck Collection at the V&A Museum.

In 1949, McCall’s magazine, in conjunction with the United Way and several local organizations, funded a one-year experimental adventure playground in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Two decades later, in the early 1970s, three adventure playgrounds opened in New York City under the Lindsey Administration, in conjunction with The Parks Council and the Lenox Hill Neighborhood Association. By the late 1970s there were at least nineteen adventure playgrounds in the US, as well as a national interest association: the American Adventure Play Association.

Although adventure playgrounds are not widely known about in the United States, several have successfully existed in California for decades: in Berkeley, Irvine, and Huntington Beach.  Now, as information about the value of adventure play has become more accessible through online media, individuals and groups across the country have begun to activate spaces for adventurous play in urban and suburban areas, through pop-up play days in public parks and rooted adventure playgrounds, such as the Anarchy Zone in Ithaca, NY.

Written by: Reilly Bergin Wilson

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