Architectural Fun: The Parliamentary Playspace by Studio Pacific

Image credit The Building Intelligence Group

This was originally meant to be a short piece in HOME Magazine’s urbanism & public space section, but won’t be published now that Bauer Media has closed HOME. I thought I may as well still publish it here.

A playground at Parliament was always going to be a difficult proposition, from a design standpoint. The idea conjures brightly-coloured plastic and rubber chip mats smelling as they deteriorate in the summer heat. These account for fun childhood memories, to be sure, but are not exactly congruent with the grey stone of our Parliament buildings, or Sir Basil Spence’s design for the Beehive.

Labour MP and Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard said a playground it was to be, as part of a push to make Parliament accessible and child-friendly. Studio Pacific Architecture was given the job. And they’ve responded with their own kind of fun: an architectural playground, say. The architects refer to a Brian Eno quotation—“Children learn through play, but adults play through art”—as a source of inspiration.

Materials are sensitively chosen, with cork matting and wood that blends in with the surrounding Pohutukawa trees. The centrepiece of the play space, a slide, renders first as sculpture and secondly as something to engage with. Alongside, wooden architectural constructions encourage climbing, crawling, sitting and touching. 

Some of the wooden forms protruding from the ground seem to make children appear as giants walking through a Manhattan skyline of towers; or they remind one of the “Architecton” forms of Russian painter Kazimir Malevich. There are ideas at play here, as well as literal play—something for everyone in a project that could so easily have been a well-intended eyesore, but an eyesore nonetheless.

The play space represents a kind of political utopia, right on our politicians’ lunch break paths. Children and adults, the future and the present, ideas and fun, thought and laughter: a healthy set of reminders for those inside the building that stands behind.