The adventure playground designed herein challenges what our current culture defines as a playground through endless areas of risk and atypical features.

Photo by Public Workshop

Photo by Public Workshop

The Pop Up Playground was a two week long design and build opportunity granted to us at Public Workshop by the Philadelphia Horticulture Society (PHS). They plan a pop up garden annually in a part of the city to promote appreciation for nature and the arts. The gardens have been host to dinner gatherings, beer gardens, music, sculpture, and simply a place to relax away from the busy streets. We were given the final two weeks of PHS’s garden along Walnut street, northwest of Rittenhouse square, to build a temporary playground. 

Panoramic view of the PHS lot along Walnut St. in Philadelphia, PA. (2012) On the far left of the image is a long table with mismatched chairs in which PHS would host dinner parties and gatherings.

We began the planning with overarching ideas and themes that were related to the location, as well as absurd fantasy lands. After passing around concepts of Ben Franklin, oversized equipment, dinosaurs, and space, we meshed our thoughts and rendered a few main structures. The most prominent feature would be a mountain adjacent to a protruding forest of 4x4s. We started the build with a wooden frame scaling roughly 20 feet tall, easily seen from the street. From here, we implemented an instant design-build technique, zip tying and meshing 1x2s together to prototype our intentions. We would discuss our thoughts on the spot and make adjustments before scaling to more structural material. We outfitted the mountain with varying compound angles of wooden planes atop a 2x4 foundation.

We extended further into the PHS garden with the forest of 4x4s and a trail that inspired prototypes of balance beams, hideout huts, star gazing rooms, seesaws and volcanoes. Much of the prototyping was done with community members and students from Philadelphia schools such as The Science Leadership Academy, El Centro de Estudiantes, Germantown Friends, Philadelphia University, and University of the Arts. 


The playground was defined as an adventure playground, a term that can be traced back to a landscape architect named Søren Carl Theodor Marius Sørensen. In 1931, Sørensen had been building playgrounds that children ignored. He observed that they would play with construction materials, creating their own world, rather than run around a playground with finite possibilities. This inspired him to create “junk playgrounds” which Sørensen described as a place where "... children could create and shape, dream and imagine a reality." The first playground opened in Emdrup, Denmark in 1942. A visit from Lady Allen Hurtwood in 1946, inspired her to adopt these playgrounds into London where they officially became known as adventure playgrounds. The adventure in the term comes from the possibilities and risks children take at these playgrounds. The walls of constraint are knocked down and imagination is encouraged by the unconventional structures children are confronted with. They are able to shape their environment to their own fantasy, taking ownership of the space they play in. 

Two weeks.
One great organizational partner.

Seventy teens and young designers from five universities and seven high schools.
Hundreds of kids and their families.
A few power tools and $2000 worth of materials.
One awesome pop-up adventure playground at the very center of Downtown Philadelphia that begins to redefine our conceptions of risk, play, and the role that young adults play in the design of our city. 

Photo by Public Workshop

Photo by Public Workshop

Photo by Public Workshop

Photo by Public Workshop