Thursday, September 14, 2017

Brutalism in Playground Design

It's hard to exaggerate the Soviet passion for concrete.


G. Verloren said...

I know you disapprove of brutalism, but here I do have to ask, what would you have done differently?

First off, are we even sure this was a playground? I'm not able to confirm that to actually be the case.

Secondly, even working under the assumption that this is indeed a playground, we're looking at ruins of a playground probably built in the 70s. If it wasn't made of concrete and steel, it wouldn't still be there to criticize.

We also have no idea what extra parts are missing. Was the concrete painted originally? Were there more steel bars, as several spots seem to suggest? Were they simple unadorned climbing bars, or were they a structural framework or support for other materials, such as now missing platforms? What might have been layered on top? Wood, perhaps, long since rotted away? Are the curved divots in the concrete purely decorational, or did they serve some practice purpose not apparent in this picture? There's a lot of information missing.

But let's assume it's as simple as it looks - steel bars for climbing set into a concrete frame. What would you do differently? What alternative materials or forms would you employ instead?

Make it entirely of steel, like a classic "jungle gym"? Employ plastic, like many cheap and ugly modern American playground structures, which degrade faster and can't accomodate more than a few children due to weight? Perhaps wood, which also degrades, and which may well have been used here anyway?

You can lodge some sort of complaint about the form and the aesthetics if you like, but what's your issue with the usage of concrete itself in this structure? It does the job, it's cheap, and there aren't really many other alternative materials.

John said...

I like the Russian playgrounds that have lots of stuff in them from fairy tales, including scary monsters.

G. Verloren said...

Yet what does that have to do with the usage of concrete as a building material? Some of the images you provide actually are of painted concrete structures. And the rest are chiefly of slowly rotting wood or well rusted steel.

I just don't understand your priorities or judgements on display here.

You say you like all these dilapidated, ramshackle, ruined playgrounds from the poor, desolate, bleak Russian backwoods... but you as soon as one of them is made of concrete, suddenly you take some sort of issue with it?

You remark about the "Soviet passion for concrete" stretching even to their playgrounds, but then contradict yourself by linking to a collection of playgrounds which mostly do NOT use concrete at all?

You also seem to specifically comment negatively on concrete almost exclusively when used in a modern sense. You routinely post quite positively about historical structures which make extensive use of concrete - unpainted, unfinished, left visibly exposed and "raw", which baffles me.

When a squat and square crumbling medieval fortification is made of raw concrete, you find it picturesque; but when a squat and square crumbling Soviet housing block is made of the same stuff, you find it attrocious? The interior of the Roman Pantheon's dome is praiseworthy, but the interior of the L'enfant Plaza Metro Station is condemnable?

I just find your tendency to remark negatively on brutalism in the modern context baffling and inconsistant.