Riverside Weekday School
(click to enlarge)
Tricycle bridge over the stream
The tower houses bells and peregrine falcons
Falcon's eye view
Castle climbing structure
Tree house
Storming the castle
Pond, plumbing pipe tent frame, sand pit and planters
A brief encounter

Spread out on a wide expanse of roof in the shadow of a Gothic bell tower, a crystalline landscape of modular wood palettes tries to recreate a real Medieval landscape with a climbing castle that sits beside hills and valleys, a shallow stream, and a tree house.

The idea was inspired by a workshop in which the teaching staff at the Weekday School, housed in the Riverside Church in New York, spent a day revisiting and sharing play experiences from their own childhoods through stories and drawings.

The school was lucky to have teachers from many parts of the world and different types of environments. A Jamaican woman told of lying in the grass for hours gazing at clouds. A teacher from Minnesota drew a plan of her backyard where she and her friends would jump from a garage roof onto a six foot snow bank, while another, from a remote village in India, showed how she used to divert streams of water with Coke bottles and rocks during the monsoon rains. The design of the playground grew from these experiences with a subtle nod to the urban Gothic surroundings of the roof.

A bridge connects the castle to the 'countryside' - wood platforms of different heights, bolted together to form a winding valley. In the valley, a shallow stream of water, emanating from a wall spigot, flows down the contours of the roof toward the drains, which can be plugged like a bath tub to make a long wading pool. Pond liner keeps the water from sinking into the rubber safety surface. No high tech waterworks here.

Of course, a clever abstraction of teachers' memories of playing in nature is no substitute for the real thing. It could be considered a training ground to keep kids in shape for when they get to enjoy their own experiences in the natural world.