Children's culture

Building Site Playground

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By Jeppe Villadsen, journalist, 2006

Children play with rubbish  

Initially they were called junk playgrounds. Subsequent generations of children have known them as adventure playgrounds, cave towns or building playgrounds. The idea was that the children should be allowed in these special playground areas to build their own playhouses and other fun constructions using recycled materials. They were to saw, hammer and play, using the refuse, rubbish and left-over building materials on the site. 

Danish invention 

The original concept was the idea of landscape architect C.Th. Soerensen, who published in 1931 a little book entitled Policy for Parish and Town Parks (Parkpolitik i Sogn og Koebstad). In this publication Soerensen proposed that playgrounds should be made in which children were allowed to build everything themselves using surplus materials from building sites.

He had observed that boys ran around most building sites after hours building huts and caves. C.Th. Soerensen’s point was that public areas should be created which could be used for sports or games rather than just as ornamental gardens. 

Happy children and teachers 

The first of these new building playgrounds went into use in the middle of World War II, in the summer of 1943, in connection with a council estate in the Copenhagen suburb of Emdrup. Later on, building playgrounds spread like wildfire throughout the country. The children loved them, and educators and teachers became more and more enthusiastic about them as well, as principles of education increasingly focused on schoolchildren’s creativity and the need to develop their abilities more freely. By the mid-1960s there were as many as 100 estimated building playgrounds in Denmark.
Today some of them have been removed or transformed into ‘real’ playgrounds but children still play in and build at building playgrounds throughout the country. Coupled with the Folk High School, these building playgrounds represent Denmark’s two major independent contributions to world educational theory. 

Building site playground back in the 1950s. Photo: Erik Petersen / Scanpix.
Children's Culture

Did you know?

Source: Ole Schultze Henriksen: Hudegrunden, Vesterbro - Historien

It reached all the way to the Folketing's speech chair in 1971, when the building site playground 'Hudegrunden' in Vesterbro put this ad in the journal Børn & Unge: "November 1 becomes an educational setting vacant. The possible applicant must be a trained pedagogue. Only a Marxist who recognizes the institution's objective and will work actively out of it will be included in our collective. The payroll is 6/8. All pay in addition goes to our solidarity fund. "

The Committee's justification

By the Committee for Architecture, 2006

In 1931, the landscape architect C.Th. Sørensen published a small book, Parkpolitik i Sogn og Købstad (Park politics in parish and market town). He suggested that you could establish playgrounds which the children could build themselves from all of the leftover material on construction sites. He had observed that older boys ran around building caves on most construction sites at the end of the day.
Park politics was published internationally, and people around the world learned Danish in order to read it. C.Th. Sørensen’s main idea was to create public spaces that people could use for sport and play, rather than just ornamental gardens.

The first “junkyard playground” was established in Emdrup in 1943 in conjunction with a social housing development, under the direction of pedagogue John Bertelsen. Since then, building site playgrounds were established all over the country. Animals were attracted to many locations, and they were very popular. As a curiosum, it should be noted that building site playgrounds became a political manifestation during the 1970s, “Byggeren” in Den Sorte Firkant in Nørrebro being the most famous example. And it can be assumed that the aesthetics of building site playgrounds impacted the establishment of Christiania and the experimental architecture of the 1970s. Children still play in the large building site playgrounds, although much has changed since 1931. It is still one of the very best ideas in Danish culture, with value across the world.

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