And that is exactly how we intend for it to be. The project is a landscape for childish exploration. It shuns function and standard, in favor of liberation. The structure cultivates a child’s — and our own — imagination through play. It encourages inventiveness through its unfolding, discoverable spaces. The playscape is tailored to child size, but still accessible to adults. It prioritizes the child user, in order to both liberate and educate. It invites the older user to reminisce, and rediscover. The structure is a space for collective imagining and celebrating of all ages.
Five Fields Play Structure is positioned on land that is rich in history. The Five Fields neighborhood was designed and developed by The Architects Collaborative (TAC) in the early 1950s. TAC sought to foster community through creating shared, common land. Since its inception, the community has cared and respected the land as a whole. This land was conceived of as an experiment over sixty years ago. TAC’s experiment was a success — the upkeep and care of the common land unifies the community to this day. We seek to keep the spirit of communal innovation alive. Five Fields Play Structure is in this sense a monument to collective experimentation. It commends the exploratory spirit of the child, as nurtured by a whole community. As they say, it takes a village. We think it also takes a village to truly imagine, to truly play.
The thing is, the act of play is inherently indeterminate. Play cannot be reined in by a specific set of verbs. Play is liberation, but also irresolution. So how do you design for ambiguity, but also childish experimentation? We designed this structure with the hope to release users from specified, directive use. The expectation is that all users will inscribe their individual, creative means of expression through the space. The play structure harnesses the imagination and liberates the body within its wooden volumes.
Which brings us to the materiality, the sensorial aspects, of this playscape. A diverse body of elements engage the senses and augment each user’s experience. Just as each child learns differently in school, so this playscape offers diverse but equal means of engagement. Visual, auditory, and kinesthetic elements create distinct moments of use. The playscape is an unfolding of views, movements, and spaces. Levitating volumes overlap at certain points to create hidden thresholds. Smaller children crawl, while larger ones climb, as a varied means of reaching discoverable spaces. Colorful graphics suggest entries and moments of use, without being overtly prescriptive. Elements like doors and stairs exist, but not as expected. We wanted to render architecture as childish. Movement through the playscape culminates in dead ends. But to the child, they are vistas of discovery that look out onto the landscape.
We see the Five Fields Play Structure as a learning opportunity. We have a lot to learn from children, from our younger selves. By creating safe space for community play, we let imagination reign. The play structure is both nod to and continuation of TAC’s emphasis on community sharing. This is a space celebrating the collective imagination, as a shared experience. It seeks to reinforce the neighborhood’s relationship to the land and to each other. Continuing TAC’s heritage, the play structure is an experimental extension of pre-existing play equipment (which already include swings, slides, and a sandbox). This investigation in ambiguity and abstractness is not just a creative endeavor. It also serves to open the very playful imagination that it is designed for. The intent is to not ask what the structure does, but how it imagines new possibilities.
About Five Fields – Lexington, MA
The Architect’s Collaborative bought the Cutler Farm and developed it into 61 affordable houses in the 1950s. Following TAC’s previous model of Six MoonHill, the development included a shared common land, which the neighborhood would then maintain. Using three different standard plans they sited the houses to follow the contours of the land while being aware of views from adjoining neighbors. In the ensuing 60 plus years the neighborhood has embraced its role as caretaker of the common land and the continued experimentation of design and community.
About MATTER DESIGN
Matter Design is an interdisciplinary design practice founded in 2008 by Brandon Clifford and Wes McGee. Their shared interest in design coupled with proficiency in the means and methods of production have led Clifford and McGee to collaborate on a range of experimental projects which break conventional disciplinary notions of scale. Matter Design was recently awarded the Design Biennial Boston award and the Architectural League Prize for Young Architects + Designers. In addition, the principals are currently faculty at the University of Michigan and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
This renovation and addition to a single family home in Arlington, Virginia, comprises a renovation of 1400sf and an addition of 1400sf. The clients needed more space for their growing family, but wanted to remain in the desirable city of Arlington. The home is a colonial built in the 1930’s and was a very tight 4 rooms over 4 rooms. The addition effectively doubles the footprint of the existing home adding a new basement, living area, and master suite. The addition allowed for the expansion of the small kitchen into the former dining room. A side porch that was enclosed by a previous owner was brought up the same level as the first floor and converted into a powder room and mudroom. Construction was completed in August 2014.
This 2600 sf home is sited on Lake Murray in central South Carolina on land abutting the client’s childhood home. The site has been referred to as Windy Hill for generations, owing to the the cool breezes that lilt though the tall pines atop the small hill. The home takes full advantage of the view and proximity to the lake; a large expanse of windows in the living area frames the view up the lake. A generous deck and screened porch provides space to enjoy the outdoors, while a breezeway allows the air to filter through the porch area while also connecting the garage to the home. An upstairs deck off of a loft and office area provides more expansive views of the lake. It is a home that provides visual and physical connections between the public spaces; the upper and lower floors are connected through the double height living area. The open floor plan and first floor master suite allows the clients to age in place.
Mid-Century Modern, MA
Situated in the TAC designed Five Fields neighborhood, the house had only one previous owner who hired TAC to custom design the home. We found the house in a state of disrepair and began a series of renovations that while bringing the house up to date, carefully considered the original intent of The Architect’s Collaborative and the spirit of mid-century modern architecture. The kitchen was only connected to the rest of the house by a single framed opening, our first move was to tear down the wall to open up the kitchen to the entirety of the living space.
During the winter of 2015 this Techbuilt house suffered extensive ice damming and subsequent flood damage. As a result the client wished to gut renovate the kitchen and master bedroom suite. Previously the galley kitchen and living were cut off by upper cabinets with a counter height pass through. We eliminated the upper cabinets and relocated the storage into more efficient tall cabinets allowing the kitchen and living room to finally feel open as was the original intent in this mid-century modern home.
While at Schwartz/Silver Architects
The client purchased 60 acres of land with a small cabin from the previous owner with the intent of eventually building a larger weekend home on the property. We situated the house on the edge of steep hill that drops over 40 feet toward the pond. The house also straddles a hollow that is maintained as the house lifts off the ground. The northern sleeping section of the house is built of heavy stone, while the southerly living sections are clad in weathering steel. A long stair connects the upper main portion of the house with a lower roof and guest level, which eventually leads out to the pond.
While at Schwartz/Silver Architects
Located in a brand new residential tower in Boston’s South End, this restaurant will be a new outpost for an existing restaurant. The clients wished to continue the brand with a large prominent pizza oven, and casual seating. The existing space contained a mezzanine which covered half of the main level creating a large contrast in height between the front and back half of the space. We wanted to heighten this contrast so where the height changes and you enter the bar the materials all turn darker. In the main dining space a rolling field of white dowels are hung to affect the dining experience, lower over the banquettes and higher over the communal table.
In this collaboration with Matter Design, we looked to connect the city of Helsinki with our proposal for the new museum. To accomplish this we scattered public programs into the volume of the building, such as restaurants and conference rooms, while keeping the circulation separate. It is possible to reach a landscape of saunas on the roof without needing to purchase a ticket. Along that path there are moments where the patrons of the museum and the public can see each other and into each space.