Over the course of his career he created a network of more than playgrounds throughout the capital. Today, only a handful of these remain intact. 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. Have we—city decision makers, architects, designers, parents, friends —forgotten to be critical?
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Lijkt redelijk onschuldig, maar blijkt vrij verstrekkende en radicale materie te zijn. Met dank aan Marina van den Bergen. Many hundreds more followed, in a spatial experiment that has positively marked the childhood of an entire generation growing up in Amsterdam. Though largely disappeared, defunct and forgotten today, these playgrounds represent one of the most emblematic of architectural interventions in a pivotal time: the shift from the top down organization of space by modern functionalist architects, towards a bottom up architecture that literally aimed to give space to the imagination.
Immediately after the war, Dutch cities were in a state of dereliction. The housing stock was falling dramatically short in both quantitative and qualitative terms, which combined with a dysfunctional infrastructure, presented planners with the situation of an outright emergency.
On top of that, this ravaged urban context was soon to be confronted with the birth peak of the postwar baby boom, whereas almost no space for children was available, neither inside nor outside the house.
At that time, some playgrounds existed in the city, but almost all of them were of a private nature and based on membership of the fortunate few. In Amsterdam, Cornelis van Eesteren, longtime president of the CIAM, was to implement his General Extension Plan Algemeen Uitbreidingsplan - AUP of , one the first modern urban masterplans to be based on extensive statistical forecasts of demographic and transport developments1 .
His plan embraced the ideal of functional separation, meaning that housing, work, traffic and recreation where to be functionally separated and integrally planned. This was the basic premise of the large-scale construction of new postwar neighborhoods in the fifties such as Buitenveldert and the Westelijke Tuinsteden, resulting in the well known open housing blocks with large amounts of light, air, greenery and monotony. This vision was radicalized in the sixties, when the entire city clogged up due to the explosive rise of car traffic, and city planners introduced a plan for an entire network of metro lines and highways cutting through the old fabric of the city.
A wholesale urban modernization wave that would form a 20th century version of the hitherto unrealized Hausmannisation of Amsterdam, much like Robert Moses famously implemented in New York with his parkways and causeways. The Dutch planners, however, never got that far. Aldo van Eyck played an important role in defining what would follow.
He also began to participate actively in the CIAM conferences4 . However, the perspective on urban space that van Eyck developed through his playgrounds, would lead him to become one of the most fervent critics of the functionalist tendency that dominated the CIAM movement until then. In , a critical group of young architects formed within the CIAM, van Eyck was one its most vocal members.
Out of the organizing group of the Otterlo conference emerged a new platform: Team X. Looking back, we can see that the ingredients for this shift were already present in the playgrounds. Between and Van Eyck designed hundreds of playgrounds, first as part of the Department of Urban Design and later on in for the municipality and from his own office. In the first eight years he designed 60 of them and after that many more, the last ones almost in batches in the post-war new districts.
Of all of them, in total, 90 survived into the 21st century with their original layout. The first playground for Bertelmanplein was a test case. Van Eyck designed a sandpit bordered by a wide rim.
In it he placed four round stones and a structure of tumbling bars. The pit was placed in the north corner of the square, diagonally across from three tumbling bars. Bordering the square were trees and five benches.
The playground was a success. Many designs followed and, depending on the site, Van Eyck deployed a number of compositional techniques. For him the playgrounds were an opportunity to test out his ideas on architecture, relativity and imagination.
Relativity in the sense that connections between elements were determined by their mutual relationships rather than by a central hierarchical ordering principle. Instead, all elements were equal: the playgrounds designed by Van Eyck were exercises in non-hierarchical composition. Van Eyck also designed the playground equipment himself, including the tumbling bars, chutes and hemispheric jungle gyms, and his children tested them.
To him, play equipment was an integral part of the commission. Its purpose was to stimulate the minds of children. The hemispherical jungle gym was not just something to climb. It was a place to talk and a lookout post. Covered with a rug, it became a hut. These sandpits, tumbling bars and stepping stones were placed throughout the Netherlands. Different elements of the playgrounds represented a break with the past. First and foremost, the playgrounds proposed a different conception of space.
The second aspect is the modular character of the playgrounds. The basic elements - sandpits, tumbling bars, stepping stones, chutes and hemispheric jungle gyms - could endlessly be recombined in differing polycentric compositions depending on the requirements of the local environment.
The third aspect is the relationship with the surrounding, the? The design of the playgrounds was aimed at interaction with the surrounding urban tissue. Of course the use of empty plots was also a tactical solution.
Because the Site Preparation Service of the Department of City Development, working together with local associations, wanted to give every neighbourhood its own playground, they often had to be placed in vacant, derelict sites. The focus on how space could be appropriated, stood in clear opposition to the prevailing modernist conception of space in architecture, most famously formulated by Giedion in his classic Space, Time and Architecture where he defined the essence of modernist architecture as the merger of space and time, creating the experience of movement9 .
Whatever space and time mean, place and occasion mean more. For space in the image of man is place, and time in the image of man is occasion.? How to feel at home in the modern city, this machine of mass rationalization? The Playground as Cultural Critique The playgrounds were not isolated architectural interventions. Somehow the playground is a powerful synthesis, a distillation of some of the most interesting motives that resonated amongst the last avantgardes in that interesting time span when modernism came under heavy fire, but the general disillusionment of the postmodernist era was nowhere yet in sight.
In itself, a playground seems a rather sweet and uncontroversial undertaking, but at the time, it served as a condensation point of cultural critique. In , van Eyck played host to the first exhibition of the Cobra group? The close relationship between van Eyck and the artists from the Cobra current makes it probable that much of his early inspiration for the playgrounds derived from Cobra: "On the margins of attention there is always the artist, essential companion to the child.
The Cobra group dissolved only three years after it was founded, but Cobra members Constant Nieuwenhuys and Asger Jorn were to reemerge on the stage as co-founders of the Situationist International in In that context, also the notion of play gained symbolic importance. In , the Dutch Historian Huizinga wrote Homo Ludens14 , a book on the historical importance of the element of play in culture; Constant Nieuwenhuys used the idea as the basis for his critique on urbanism.
Much like Aldo van Eyck, he was deeply critical of the functionalist architecture of the postwar time. Together with Guy Debord, he wrote the now famous tract on Unitary Urbanism that proclaimed the advent of a society of mass creativity. Constant believed that, due to mechanization, Homo Faber, the traditional working man of industrial society, would be replaced by Homo Ludens, the playful man, or creative man, in postindustrial society15 .
The Situationists took this element of play and developed it into one of their core notions, as Debord would state: "Due to its marginal existence in relation to the oppressive reality of work, play is often regarded as fictitious. But the work of the situationists is precisely the preparation of ludic possibilities to come. With psychogeography and the famous drive, they changed focus from?
In his later utopian architecture work New Babylon Van Eyck actually assisted him when he started making scale models Constant created an explicit metaphor for the advent of a creative society. End Battle In the Netherlands, modernist urban planning and the growing anti-modernist spirit of revolt were to have a final face-off in the Nieuwmarkt neighborhood in Amsterdam.
This was the site where the first of the metrolines - with a four lane innercity highway on top - was to be constructed, cutting clear through one of the oldest popular neighbourhoods of the city. Years of spirited resistance, and a conclusive violent riot in , lead to the final surrender of the modernist planners and the politicians who led them: the metroline was finished but the highway was stopped, and all other metroplans were off the agenda.
The new left came to power, the Nieuwmarkt was saved, and became an inspiration for anti-modernization struggles elsewhere in the country. A new model for urban development emerged? One of the first and most symbolic of these projects was the redevelopment of the Nieuwmarkt itself, and maybe not so surprisingly, Aldo van Eyck was the architect to work on it.
Here, his ideas on interstitial space, non-hierarchical composition, and participative planning, led to an architecture that could easily mold into the existing tissue of the neighborhood. NAi publishers, Rotterdam. Gemeente Amsterdam, Amsterdam. Inbetweening in a Postwar World.
Jrgen Joedicke ed. NAi Publishers, Rotterdam. The Growth of a New Tradition. MIT Press, Cambridge. The Experience of Modernity. Stokvis 13Aldo van Eyck, Geschiedenis, voorspel en betekenis van een beweging in de kunst van na de tweede wereldoorlog. De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam.
Homo Ludens. Proeve eener bepaling van het spelelement der cultuur. Tjeenk Willink, Haarlem. The hyper-architecture of desire , Publishers, Rotterdam. Autonomedia, New York.
Aldo van Eyck’s Playgrounds: Aesthetics, Affordances, and Creativity
Lijkt redelijk onschuldig, maar blijkt vrij verstrekkende en radicale materie te zijn. Met dank aan Marina van den Bergen. Many hundreds more followed, in a spatial experiment that has positively marked the childhood of an entire generation growing up in Amsterdam. Though largely disappeared, defunct and forgotten today, these playgrounds represent one of the most emblematic of architectural interventions in a pivotal time: the shift from the top down organization of space by modern functionalist architects, towards a bottom up architecture that literally aimed to give space to the imagination. Immediately after the war, Dutch cities were in a state of dereliction. The housing stock was falling dramatically short in both quantitative and qualitative terms, which combined with a dysfunctional infrastructure, presented planners with the situation of an outright emergency.
Aldo van Eyck and the City as Playground
During the s and s van Eyck designed over playgrounds that were constructed throughout Amsterdam. Each of the playgrounds were specifically designed according to their location and context to the street. The locations of the playgrounds were chosen by the city and ranged from abandoned lots to extensions of the sidewalk. The solid concrete elements contrasted with the slender metal climbing elements.
Aldo van Eyck : the playgrounds and the city
Many hundreds more followed, in a spatial experiment that has positively marked the childhood of an entire generation. Though largely disappeared, defunct and forgotten today, these playgrounds represent one of the most emblematic of architectural interventions in a pivotal time: the shift from the top down organization of space by modernist functionalist architects, towards a bottom-up architecture that literally aimed to give space to the imagination. Immediately after the Second World War, Dutch cities were in a state of dereliction. The housing stock was falling dramatically short in both quantitative and qualitative terms.