ALDO VAN EYCK’S PLAYGROUNDS AMSTERDAM. 1947 | 2011 Abstract The object of study of this article are Aldo van Eyck’s playgrounds, built in Amsterdam between 1947 and 1978, and intends to give continuation to an effort of documentation and updating present in an exhibition and a series of publications that started in 2002. In a field trip (April 2011) some of these playgrounds have been revisited. The reading of these spaces have been guided by the questionings organized by Marc Augé in the theory of ‘places’, by the introduction of the term ‘situations’ by the International Situationist, as well as by the photo essays and propositions that introduce the ‘as found’ concept. As a product of this questioning and investigation a photo essay is delivered: it shows how the playgrounds, as ‘ready-mades’, characterized by the simplicity and neutrality of its design, reveal their surroundings (that becomes background and articulated element in each one of them), ‘as found’. As a series of events, they structure a network of places with capacity of transformation and re-codification, constantly guaranteed by participation in several levels.
Bertelmanplein, Amsterdam-Oudzuid, 1947. Photo: 1956. In: Lefaivre, de Roode, 2002, p. 85. Original: Gemeenterarchief Amsterdam.
Zeedijk, AmsterdamCentrum, 1956. In: Lefaivre, de Roode, 2002, p. 33. Original: Gemeenterarchief Amsterdam.
Key words Architectural urbanism (architektur urbanistik); playground; place; as found; Situational Urbanism.
‘Place’, ‘as found’
Laurierstraat, Amsterdam-Centrum, 1956-57, 1965.In: Lefaivre, de Roode, 2002, p. 50-51. Original: Gemeenterarchief Amsterdam
“Drawing by the Site Preparation Division of the Department of Public Works with sandpits, somersaut frames, climbing frames, play tables and climbing mountains designed by Aldo van Eyck.” In: In: Lefaivre, de Roode, 2002, p. 90. Original: Dennis Hogers, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Network of playgrounds in 1961. In: Lefaivre, de Roode, 2002, p. 43. Original: TU Delft (DKS group).
Tactical operation: identify and mark derelict plots. In: Lefaivre, de Roode, 2002, p. 30. Original: Gemeenterarchief Amsterdam.
ALDO VAN EYCK’S PLAYGROUNDS AMSTERDAM. 1947, Bertelmanplein. architect Aldo van Eyck (1918-1999) builds his first playground in Amsterdam. Following that first gesture, in the coming decades (until 1978), more than 700 playgrounds have been built. 90 of these survived into the 21st century with their original layout.1 In 2002, the exhibition “The Playgrounds and the city”2 celebrated this created network, compiling the existing documents and making it legible in the Amsterdam map. In the same year, the Archis magazine published “Psychogeographic Bicycle Tour of Aldo van Eyck’s Amsterdam Playgrounds”3, that, as the exhibition, had the intention to reveal a serie of images showing ‘before’ and ‘after’, updating the information about the state of the playgrounds between 1976 and 2002. In 2009, Jonathan Hanahan and Rory Hyde published in the Volume (n.22) magazine a tour through the same playgrounds. The intention: to explore the guide produced in 2002 and revisit the playgrounds, again updating their condition. As a continuation of all that effort for the update, this fieldtrip (April/2011) was guided by another question. Besides sharing the interest about the actual stand of these playgrounds, which have and which have not been modified, it interest to investigate to which extent the playgrounds create urban ‘places’4. Given their character of neutrality – once they were always constituted by the same elements: the sand box, the climbing metal elements and a sand and stone floor – this investigation questions if the playgrounds might be read as a tool that reveal its surroundings, as ready-mades that 1 Oudenampsen, 2009. 2 Exhibition in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 15th June –18th Sep., 2002. 3 Lefaivre, Liane, Boterman, Marlies / Loen, Suzanne / Miedema, Merel, 2003. 4 Place as defined by Marc Augè.
reveal the place as found5, a network of articulated places. An emergency measure: temporary spaces - unused plots of land inbetween the housing blocks 6- were to be reprogrammed into playgrounds by very simple measures. Critic7 towards a monotonous functional plan, Eyck argues for architecture to be something to facilitate human activity and promote social interaction.8 He designed a simple glossary defining a vocabulary that is present in each of the built playgrounds: a concrete bordered sandpit, round stones, a structure of tumbling bars, trees and benches. The standardization did not intend to replicate the monotony of the functionalist, modern blocks. Contrary to that, it was about acting in a tactical way in the existing city (‘as found’) taking advantage of sites that offered the chance for a temporary function. The articulation of these elements in the space illustrate a series of exercises of non-hirarchical ordering.9 The basic elements are recombined in different compositions depending on the surroundings. It recreates the playgrounds new in each new location as a support awaiting for interaction, use, play.10 Its simple design was consciously thought as to stimulate the imagination and participation in the use of the playgrounds. The raw materials employed (concrete, metal and stone) and the simplicity of the design creates a set of homogeneous character that highlights the surroundings, that have been maintained as found. As a background, they become the most important element, transforming open spaces in places 5 as found, Peter and Alison Smithson: A. & P. Smithson, The ‘As Found’ and the ‘Found’, in David Robbins, ed., The Independent Group: Postwar Britain and the Aesthetics of Plenty. Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 1990. pp. 20-25. 6 Created after modern functionalist principles of architecture and urban planning under the pressure of the Post II World War housing shortage. “Postwar urban planning in the Netherlands minly consisted of a rushed and economized implementation of the prewar ideals of the modernist architects like Le Corbusier, Giedion, and Gropius.” The city was in derelict condition, falling short of housing stock and of collective equipment and open spaces; Amsterdam new plan (Cornelis van Eesteren’s Algemeen Uitbreidingsplan (AUP, 1934) embraced the ideal of functional separation in which housing, work, traffic and recreation were to be functionally separated. (In: Oudenampsen, 2009). 7 The Team X, from which Aldo van Eyck was a member has position itself against the Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM), that took place for the last time in 1959. The Team X would replace the old ratioonalist and functionalist approach for something new. The new architecture was to be modular, open to participation and was to structure creative practices. 8 van Eyck, Aldo, ‘Het Verhaal van een Andere Gedachte’ (The Story of Another Thought). In: Forum 7, Amsterdam and Hilversum, 1959. In: Oudenampsen, 2009. 9 Oudenampsen, 2009. 10 As defined by the International Situacionist (IS).
strongly connected to the local specificness of each spot. The playgrounds were not just elements to climb, but a place to meet, to talk and to perceive and read the space new. The playgrounds redesign the relationship with the existing surrounding, stressing their interstitial nature. The created places are determined by the occasional, the temporary appropriation, the use, the moments and the situations created out of it. In this sense, it goes hand in hand with Henri Lefevre’s Theory of Moments11, in which the city is defined as a general frame or an open-structure to different occasional moments, defining temporary situations and constantly re-codifying the physical space. The concept of the city as structure identifies a network of sites to be reprogrammed, instantly changing their vocation and adding meaning and identity based on the concept of place12. We read in Lefaivre: “Like his artist friends Piet Mondrian and Constant Nieuwenhuys, van Eyck thought of the ideal city as a labyrinth of small, intimate territories, or more poetically, a random constellation of stars. A playground on every street corner was just a first step on the journey to the ‘ludic city’: the city of play. ‘Whatever time and space mean’, he used to thunder at his modernist architectural colleagues, ‘place and occasion mean more.’ ”13 All of these arguments point at the idea of another city to be produced, differently than it was being planned in the Postwar. While reading the existing, reinterpreting it before designing it, Eyck highlights the ordinary, which becomes portrayed in the first playground built in 1947. On the same year, H. Lefebvre’s Critique de la Vie Quotidienne was published. 14 The use of empty sites reveals a tactical operation in the city, taking advantage of the potential offer by a situation of change and reconstruction. Playgrounds were to occupy vacant, derelict sites. The first playground for Bertelmanplein was a successful experiment. If, back in 1947 the success was measured by the intensity of use and free appropriation 11 Developed in parallel with the International Situationist, in which the element of play, and the playful man (Homo Ludens) would prepare a new city full of ludic possibilities to come. For the IS, play is developed into a subversive strategy to change the modern, capitalist city. 12 In “Non-Lieux. Introduction à une anthropologie de la surmodernité” (Le Seuil, 1992), Marc Augè defines Lieux (Places) as a spaces defined by its relation to history, and the identity formed out of this relationship. 13 Lefaivre, 2002. 14 Lefebvre’s theory had Paris’ periphery as its study object.
of its glossary, in 2011, it can be expressed in the their capacity of adapting and re-articulating with the local. To visit some of these playgrounds nowadays reveals an important built object, a concrete built case study that anticipates the discussion an theorization developed in the following two decades around the ideas of ‘place’ (‘lieux’, ‘site’ and ‘as found’), and of play, as a way to subvert and modify the spaces of our everyday.
References AUGÉ, Marc. Non-Lieux. Introduction à une anthropologie de la surmodernité. Paris: Seuil, 1992. Hanahan, Jonathan / Hyde, Rory. “Aldo van Eyck playground tour 2009”, in: Volume Magazine, nº 22, Amsterdam, 2009, pp. 36-39. Lefaivre, Liane / De Roode, Ingeborg; Van Eyck, Aldo. The Playgrounds and the City (catalog). Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 2002. Lefaivre, Liane / Tzonis, Alexander; VAN EYCK Aldo. Humanist Rebel, 010 Publishers, Rotterdam, 1999. Lefaivre, Liane, Ludens Puer, in: Lotus International, nº 124, Milan, 2005, pp. 78-85. Lefaivre, Liane / Boterman, Marlies / Loen, Suzanne / Miedema, Merel, A psychogeographical bicycle tour of Aldo van Eyck’s Amsterdam playgrounds, in: Archis, nº 3, Amsterdam, 2002, pp.129-135. Oudenampsen, Merijn, Aldo van Eyck and the City as Playground, in: www.flexmens.org/drupal, 10/10/2009. VAN DEN BERGEN, Marina, Aldo van Eyck, translation: Billy Nolan, in: http://www.classic.archined.nl/ news/0207/AldovanEyck_playgrounds_eng.html, 13/04/2011.
FIELD RESEARCH April 2011 IMAGE CREDITS Lefaivre, Liane / De Roode, Ingeborg; Van Eyck, Aldo. The Playgrounds and the City (catalog). Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 2002. Photos: Marcos L. Rosa. Sketches: Marcos L. Rosa.