Central Park’s Iconic Adventure Playground Reopens
December 21, 2015
The Adventure Playground, designed in 1966 by Richard Dattner, has been completely rebuilt by the Central Park Conservancy and is now open to the public, the second renewal of the playground in its 50-year history. One of the earliest “adventure playgrounds” in the US, this project was the result of a group of young neighborhood mothers preventing Robert Moses’ bulldozers from tearing up the asphalt playground formerly on that site for a parking lot for the Tavern on the Green. An article by The Cultural Landscape Foundation revisits the space’s history and continued popularity. An important milestone for interactive play and advancement in the relationship between child development and the outdoors, the article explains “the design was a profound expression of ‘the playground revolution,’ a widespread response to the standard conception of the playground as an equipment-filled lot, which, as designers, critics, and parents began to recognize, lacked opportunities for creative and interactive play.” These play spaces encourage imaginative interaction and exploration inspired by child psychologists of the day and incorporated durable, budget-conscious materials typical of an urban environment.
The success of this iconic space initiated a “playground revolution.” Richard Dattner received commissions to completely re-imagine five of the twenty “necklace” playgrounds dotting the periphery of Central Park. His book, Design for Play, describes the design’s basis on European observations that kids loved playing with the rubble from World War 2. Richard Dattner explained, “The goal was to give the kids with maximum spatial and sensory experiences, along with maximum individual control over those experiences—in a setting considerably safer than the European counterparts.” The manifesto and critical case study encouraged other communities to implement new playscapes, including Queens, New York; Tampa, Florida; and Tel Aviv, Israel.
Richard Dattner has been called a “Young Turk of radical urban playground design, a professional discipline that hadn’t even existed until [his] projects somewhat inadvertently invented it.”