Scandinavia has offered the West with a unique and often immediately recognizable sense of style and design. Most items or structures that are based on the concept of Scandinavian design have very clean, sharp features and emphasize the need for utility and practicality as well as a certain minimalism. This is best seen in Scandinavian furniture and architectural design and not surprisingly, these same design elements are being applied to Scandinavian playgrounds for children and this section of the world is producing a few nnovative concepts in playground design.
What are Scandinavian playgrounds like then, and what could possibly make them different from playgrounds in other parts of the world? The answer is actually more complex than one might think and involves the society of Scandinavian countries as much as artistic or aesthetic concepts. In short, the answer to the question of what makes Scandinavian playgrounds different is distinctly cultural as opposed to being artistic.
When most of think about the playgrounds we remember from our youth, most likely images of the ones at your elementary school or a local park come immediately to mind. If you grew up in the United States or Canada, it is highly likely that your playground had a rather definite structure and design and predictable playground equipment, including a slide, jungle gym, swings, and perhaps, if you were lucky, a seesaw. What you probably never paid much attention to was the design and planning process that must have gone into the layout of the playground, even if on a very surface, cursory level. What forms the essential nature of these currently growing numbers of Scandinavian playgrounds is the society they come from. Whereas America, for instance, encourages free play and an emphasis on using what is at one’s disposal to come up with something new and creative, Scandinavian playgrounds encourage a more culture-specific notion that is tied to the American concept of an ideal playground. But due to cultural disparities, is quite offset.
One researcher who examined the context of Scandinavian playgrounds and playground design remarked on the connection between the functionality and hard-work based culture of Scandinavian countries that was firmly committed to concepts of individuality while also stressing that in these countries, “individuality is uniquely linked to the collective actions focused on accomplishing the idea of a welfare state, where individuals and their safe and uninhibited development is a priority” (Banas 2008). In other words, these playgrounds should represent the fact that Scandinavian society aims to promote the dual goals of individual development within the context of the community where everyone is assumed equal. This, according the research proposed by Banas in the study of Scandinavian playground design, the research cites three main aspects to this Scandinavian playground design:
Proximity – In term this idea of Scandinavian playground design, Banas suggests that children and families must be near playgrounds in order to receive the personal, individualistic, and community benefits of them, thus instead of being a feature of Scandinavian playground design specifically, this is a measure to encourage more public playgrounds to be built so that more children and families will attend.
Availability – This aspect of Scandinavian playground design is not what is sounds like as it is not related to the availability of more playgrounds, necessarily, but rather than amount of space and how it is used. This study suggests that the Scandinavian model “consists of combining various forms of play for all ages” and that all children, regardless of age are “encouraged to play in the same space divided for the particular age categories” (Banas 2008).This system of Scandinavian playgrounds and play areas works for all parties; parents feel as though their children are safer being around older kids, children look up to and like being around older kids, and for the most part, the older children play regardless of the presence of younger children.
This is a rather far cry from American playgrounds that are often divided by physical space grouped by age categories with the more complex playground equipment dedicated to older children and separated and “kiddie” playgrounds away from these.
Integration – The concept of integration goes hand in hand with the issues of shared space noted above but with the distinct qualifier of being inclusion friendly. In short, all playgrounds and Scandinavian play areas are to be designed so that handicapped, non-handicapped, and other developmentally challenged children all play in the same area without the subtle distinctions these differences cause. All equipment must be suitable for everyone without marked distinctions (such as the wheelchair-accessible swing or slide dedicated only to handicapped children).
This is another far cry from American playgrounds as many still use special designations on playground equipment and do not encourage play across all lines. Doing away with handicapped designations and using innovative design to construct playgrounds that are fit for everyone to use takes some thinking outside of the box but offers a very promising model to what has been the standard in playgrounds outside of Scandinavia.
Banas, Monkia. (2008). Scandinavian playgrounds for children—space, color and functionality. Studies in Physical Culture & Tourism. 15(2) 121-127.