If the Timber Pavilion at the Hakone Open-Air Museum in Japan looks a bit Spartan from the outside, it’s simply as a foil for the colorful and wholly original playground inside. The wooden structure, designed by Tezuka Architects, houses an enormous climbing net, made from recycled nylon and knitted entirely by hand. It was designed by artist Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam to create a complete “activity topography”. Kids can climb around it, swing from knitted teardrops on the outside of the net and also crawl inside the suspended web via various cubbyhole openings. They, as well, have the option to simply hang out in hidden resting areas.

Hakone Playground, photo by  Ping Yee from Singapore
Hakone Playground, photo by Ping Yee from Singapore

Brooklyn-based artist and sculptor Tom Otterness has been creating giant playground sculptures for more than 20 years. He often uses bronze and steel, but his mastery softens the metals; they appear cuddly and cute, rather than monumental. Otterness magnifies playthings to gargantuan proportions so that kids can slide down a doll’s legs and arms, or climb on the backs of giant frogs and insects. Big Girl Playground is open to the public in Yonkers, New York. But other sculptures, such as the playgrounds in Silver Towers, New York, and in Aspen, Colorado, are private property.

Big Girl Playground by Tom Otterness, 2011, Ridge Hill, Yonkers, NY, photo by Seth Lamberton
Big Girl Playground by Tom Otterness, 2011, Ridge Hill, Yonkers, NY, photo by Seth Lamberton

At Parque Gulliver in Valencia, Spain, all young fans of Jonathan Swift’s beloved children’s book can try out being a Lilliputian for the day. At this giant sculptural jungle gym kids can climb the stairs up Gulliver’s arms and legs, slide down his waistcoat and hair, explore the caves in his sleeves, and climb the ropes that hold him down.

Parque Gulliver in Valencia
Parque Gulliver in Valencia

Imagination Playground is a play space concept conceived and designed by architect David Rockwell to encourage child-directed, unstructured free play. With a focus on loose parts, Imagination Playground offers a changing array of elements that allows children to constantly reconfigure their environment and to design their own course of play. Giant foam blocks, mats, wagons, fabrics and crates overflow with creative potential for children to play, dream, build and explore. One of the most impressive playgrounds opened to the public in July 2010 at Burling Slip, near South Street Seaport in New York City.

Imagination Playground by architect David Rockwell, photo by Frank Oudeman
Imagination Playground by architect David Rockwell, photo by Frank Oudeman

Danish design is well known for its clean, yet playful and friendly, aesthetics. No surprise that Monstrum, one of the most successful architectural offices specializing in playground design, is based in Copenhagen. Drawing on their stage design experience, Monstrum founders Ole B. Nielsen and Christian Jensen sew a visual story through their designs. This combination, in tandem with the physical elements they construct, stimulates physical activity, play and fantasy. Some of Monstrum’s highlights include The Pike at Annedals Park in Stockholm and the Rasmus Klump Land at Tivoli in Copenhagen.

The Pike in Stockholm by Monstrum
The Pike in Stockholm by Monstrum

St. Kilda Adventure Playground is an award-winning playground about an hour drive north of Adelaide, Australia. For the adventurous, a flying fox, spiral slide, and monorail, along with a giant wave slide and maze are sure to keep kids and parents entertained. Its sprawling terrain also has a castle to explore and a ship to captain.

St. Kilda Playground by Matthew Roberts
St. Kilda Playground by Matthew Roberts

Text: Romy Uebel
Header image: Seth Lamberton