Corvus Design Blog

June 17, 2010

Isamu Noguchi – Playscapes

On a recent trip to the East Coast, I visited the Isamu Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, just across the East River from Manhattan. Of special interest was a room of playscape models developed by Noguchi for various projects.

A pile of earth holds latent opportunities that offer exciting design opportunities, for both physically and mentally engaging landscapes. Several years ago, I was working on a residential project for a family with three young boys. The excavated fill from a sunken patio formed two large ‘mountains’ of dirt… and became too much of a temptation for the boys to stay away from, and provided hours of entertainment. I proposed a design to integrate culvert pipe sections, rock climbing walls, and plantings into the earthen berms – transforming the vast expanse of backyard into an interesting landscape of topography – for play and seasonal interest. Sadly for me, the desire for the quintessential American green lawn outweighed the boys’ need for a stimulating playscape. Eleven truckloads of fill material were trucked away from the site, making way for an irrigation system and 22,000 square feet of sod. In a similar tone, many of Noguchi’s sculpted playscapes were only realised as models and were never constructed. What is it about these particular landscapes / playscapes that prevent them from being realized?

Noguchi (1904-1988) was a sculptor who worked with stone, metal, wood and clay, and produced models for public projects, gardens, and dance sets. Noguchi’s Playscapes were explorations in topographical manipulation that foster a sense of wonder and exploration. The landscape proposals provided unrestricted Play opportunities and possessed the ability to transform one’s imagination, supporting creativity and timeless adaptation.

Noguchi Museum – http://http//www.noguchi.org/