13 exciting designs for playground of the future

Surface magazine has commissioned 13 designers and architects to reimagine the playground for 2018 and beyond informed by Isamu Noguchi’s Carrara marble “Slide Mantra” and David Rockwell’s Imagination Playground, a portable playground that kids themselves can build from giant blue foam blocks.

The brief from editor-in-chief Spencer Bailey gave the designers room to be free with their ideas: “Create an object for a playground of the future. It could be whatever you want it to be—as long as it’s about play and makes sense within a playground setting.”

Black and white photo of man standing on top of a sculptural marble slide.
Isamu Noguchi and his “Slide Mantra” in 1986.
Courtesy The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York / ARS

The result is an array of proposals big and small, from underpass playgrounds to modular blocks to elaborate jungle gyms. Even if each project is unique, collectively they promote the idea of the multifunctional—“that good, sound playground design needs to be something that’s fluid and can be experienced in many different ways, from various angles, with no one-size-fits-all model,” said Bailey. Below, a few of our favorite playscapes of the future. Head to Surface for the complete list.

Tumbleweed by SO-IL

Tumbleweed is a mobile playground that can be positioned in a variety of settings. As a ‘tumbleweed,’ it can roll over and transform an empty lot into a place for learning and adventure. The structure bounces around, settling into a position where a different set of equipment is accessible.

Fil by Frederick McSwain

In the warmer months, a commonly isolated and critically overlooked staple of the playground emerges from hibernation: the water fountain. Although designed for drinking, this bubbler’s primary function is often reappropriated as a filling station for various water-dispensing devices, from buckets to balloons.

Hide-and-Seek Teahouse by Stephanie Goto

The universal game of hide-and-seek is the inspiration for this children’s teahouse. Mimicking palms upon a face that gently recall the sloping roof lines of teahouses in Japan, Hide-and-Seek presents conditions of seeing and being seen, activates the spirit of play, and provides moments of reflection.

Ramping Up Play by Weiss/Manfredi

This design uses infrastructure’s free gifts, providing shelter from sun and rain and robust structures capable of suspending miles of play, to create new playgrounds in underserved urban neighborhoods and activate spaces vulnerable to privatization.

Developed in collaboration with the Healthy Materials Lab at Parsons School of Design.

Zoids! by LevenBetts

Formed by the aggregation of one simple repeating trapezoidal volume at two scales, seating, landscape elements, and building blocks combine to create an all-encompassing, changeable scape of play and ‘zoidal’ discovery.

Rendering done in collaboration with the London-based 3-D architectural visualization studio VMAVI.

Oscillate Slide by Paul Cocksedge

The sculptural form of the Oscillate slide defines the park’s playing area, encircling trees, picnic areas, and places to gather. People can walk in and out beneath the arches, as well as slide down the top.

Courtesy of Surface