Open forms: playgrounds

Play is one of ma0’s keywords since the beginning of the practice. As Game Zone and Playscape claimed, architecture can be seen as a system of spatial rules that can allow – or impede – movements and gestures, relations and communications, moving the focus of design – and analysis – from the stylistic and symbolic aspects of form to the social and political values of how people and dwellers can perform in a given space. 

Floating Architecture @ Carpi, Festa del Gioco

Again, from our ma0’s little pink book:

If form organizes relations, lays out and defines the modes of communication between spaces (…), architecture is a system of spatial and procedural rules that start a game the outcome of which we can only imagine by establishing constraints, interdictions and obstacles, by offering opportunities and leaving room for interpretation.

This is the performative side of form.

The most interesting aspect of looking at architecture as a playground, is the fact that it stresses its constituent task to order and protect bodies and goods in space and to prescript behaviors, not to mention the fact that play goes against the natural weight, solidity and inertness of building materials. The strategies to evade architecture’s limitations to become playful are manifold, and depend on the situation, context, program, as the outcomes that we want to have.

Temporary installations such as our Floating Architectures are an extraordinary opportunity to escape many of these limitations, inventing light and apparently useless devices devoted to spatial exploration and to “create a temporary crisis in the structure of use and fruition of the city and its architecture, altering its responses to those of the expectations of its users, interrupting the system of anticipation of the user, who is blocked by stereotyped rules” (Orlandoni, Vallino, 1977). Wonder is a fundamental aspect of these installations – produced by the displacement of objects, the use of exceptional colors and materials – to trigger a different attitude from the visitors, to make clear that they are entering a playground where these rules are temporarily and partially suspended.

Floating Architecture @ Tasmeem Doha 2015: 3ajeeb!

Against the motionlessness of architecture, we have been using the lighter elements of space – walls, doors, furniture – as devices to let the dwellers interact and transform space adapting it to different needs and situations.

Since the rotating benches in Bari, we have been exploring in a long series of projects for different occasions and contexts the possibility of opening public and private spaces to a multiplicity of interactions.

Piazza Risorgimento, Bari

The Carousel of the Transalpina Square in Gorizia is just the last of a long series of projects that featured rotating benches and rotating or sliding walls, with its benches moving eccentrically on rails around the center of this public space, on the border between Italy and Slovenia.

Carousel Europe @ Transalpina Square, Gorizia
Diagrams showing the movement of the benches on eccentric rails
Diagrams showing different configurations of the underground exhibition space

These two strategies to make playful and interactive architecture, while opening space to interpretation and appropriation, nevertheless have some limitations, given the ephemeral character of the first, and the limited range of possibilities of the second defined by the device performance.

More challenging is always for us the possibility to leave a blank space in architecture, and to make room for incremental modifications promoted by the dwellers, really adapting architecture to needs that the designer can rarely fully comprehend.

On the lineage of important examples coming from all over the world of incremental architecture – starting from the ‘60s to recent years where this approach has gained a renewed attention for its social and ecological implications – we have been experimenting since the beginning the most radical form of playful architecture, one that leave to the dweller the possibility of completing and transforming the building overtime.

Costruzione di una Scuola, Scuole Innovative Competition in Macerata

From Playscape, the winning proposal to the Europan 7 competition, to the more recent Costruzione di una scuola (II prize at the Scuole innovative competition) and the project commissioned by the Comune di Bari for the renewal of the public spaces and facilities of a school, the solution has been to design open frameworks able to collect in a common structure a multiplicity of interventions, and a future that can be just imagined – but not determined – by these projects. Here architecture makes a step backward and becomes a support – as Habraken named it – to welcome the sedimentation of a diversity of traces, forms and languages representing different identities.

Palympsest, Rodari school renewal in Bari

After using for years the metaphor of the playground in search for an interactive and incremental architecture, we are now broadening this search following openness as keyword, that can literally open the conversation to different genealogies of architects, apparently very distant from us – and from a playful attitude – bringing us outside of the disciplinary boundaries in the relational dimension of the space in which we live.

Openness is the new mantra, but the substance is always the same: make room for play!