Children play in a large, complex, multi-material playground.

How Child’s Play Inspired a Movement to Help Communities

Go past the Cassat and the Monet, left after the Degas, then out the doors, and you’ll hit the museum’s playground. Yes, its playground. When Daniel Baumann, one of the three curators for the 2013 Carnegie International, first arrived in Pittsburgh and walked up Forbes Avenue to his new office, he noticed something missing. Something to make it “clear that this is not a corporate building, but a museum,” Baumann said. Enter the Lozziwurm.

The Lozziwurm is a twisting, turning, tubular playset made of orange and yellow plastic segments with cut-outs to slip and slide through. Swiss artist Yvan Pestalozz created the Lozziwurm in 1972 after following a childhood memory of the mass-produced tube. Some 40 years later, the Lozziwurm became part of the 2013 Carnegie International’s Playground Project, detailing the history of artists and architect-designed playgrounds.

As its first U.S. installation, the Lozziwurm opened with an “Ultimate Play Day” in April 2013, hosted with the Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative, a group of regional organizations that educate decision-makers about play’s worth. The Lozziwurm still stands outside today: free and open until dusk.

The relationship between play and creativity underlined the 2013 Carnegie International, but the museum wanted something that would live on after the exhibit’s close.

In addition to leadership work with PPC, Marilyn Russell, curator of education, worked with architects, museum staff, and Braddock community members to reimagine a park in North Braddock, now called Recycle Park, with event programs and resource-sharing partnerships.

In any community and in any circumstance, children do not lose the desire to play. Playgrounds and museums have always been places for color, exploration, imagination, and daring leaps. But although the act of play is as old as cave drawings, playgrounds have only appeared in the last century or so.

Children play on an abstract scultpure in a playground.
Tuffsen play sculpture, 1949, designed by Egon Møller-Nielsen, Humlegården, Stockholm.

Playgrounds started off as “sand gardens” in Germany in 1885, and did not become popular in the States until the 1906 formation of the Playground Association of America. As America urbanized and means of transportation went from horse-and-buggy to fast-moving automobiles, someone needed to get the kids off the street—President Theodore Roosevelt called for the construction of playgrounds the following year.

By the 1930s, architect C. Th. Sørensen had begun to design his popular “junk playgrounds,” later called “adventure playgrounds.” One man’s trash—tires, boards, nails, and miscellaneous scraps in an empty lot—allowed kids to create their own play areas. In addition to footage of “adventure playgrounds,” the Playground Project also showcased the golden years of design through influential playgrounds from the mid-to-late century and two installations from contemporary artists Tezuka Architects and Ei Arakawa and Henning Bohl.

Playgrounds were mass-produced in the 1960s, but the 1980s saw a rise in child safety lawsuits. Now less mystical construction zones than rubber foam fortresses, today’s playgrounds are an entirely new biosphere.

Many children play amongst and swing on monkey bars in an American playground.
Riis Plaza, Jacob Riis Houses, New York, 1965, designed by M. Paul Friedberg. A commission of the New York City Housing Authority, funded by the Astor Foundation. (Courtesy M. Paul Friedberg)

Advanced technology hasn’t meant more playtime though, as hopscotch falls away to practice Tchaikovsky.

Kids have lost 12 hours of free time per week since the late 1970s, forcing a 25 percent decrease in play, according to “Changing Times of American Youth” from University of Michigan researchers. But what happens when we don’t play?

In 2007, neuroscientist Sergio Pellis and his colleagues recorded the first direct evidence that a lack of play affects the brain. Using euthanized rats, Pellis found that rats raised without play had immature neurological connections in the prefrontal cortex.

As a break from violin practice, why not bring your children to contemplate art in the public sphere through sculptural work—materials: plastic, metal, and paint—by a renowned foreign artist. Or crawl with them through the Lozziwurm’s colorful labyrinth, rekindling your own youthful bliss and remembering that play is not a concept bound by age.

Image (top): School yard for Buchanan High School, Washington, DC, 1966, designed by M. Paul Friedberg. Grant from the Astor Foundation for Lady Bird Johnson Beautify America Program. Courtesy M. Paul Friedberg.

Since its inception in 1896, the Carnegie International has been Carnegie Museum of Art’s signature survey series, the preeminent exhibition of new international art in the United States. To learn more about the artists and artworks showcased throughout the history of this storied exhibition, visit the archives.

Since its inception in 1896, the Carnegie International has been Carnegie Museum of Art’s signature survey series, the preeminent exhibition of new international art in the United States.