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By Jacopo Gennari Feslikenian (OPENFABRIC)
“Gridgrounds” has created an elongated public square stretched across the central space so that all paths converge in one place, effectively defining a new centre for the neighbourhood.
“Gridgrounds” is a public space and playground project realized by Openfabric and Dmau in Amsterdam. The design process started in December 2015 and was open to the public in 2017. The collaboration between the two practices started with the design of another public space project realised in 2014 in The Hague (“Into the Wild”); both projects were generated thanks to a Public Private Partnership between the two Municipalities and the Krajicek Foundation. The foundation is a non-profit organisation founded in 1997 by former Dutch tennis player and Wimbledon winner Richard Krajicek that aim to create playgrounds in less favoured urban areas in the Netherlands, promoting outdoor sport activities, social safety and community empowerment.
“Gridgrounds” project went through an intense process of community engagement facilitated by the Municipality of Amsterdam, that included all the different actors and stakeholders involved in the neighbourhood. The site, Het Breed, is a modernist neighbourhood defined by rational five-storey residential blocks that are connected, at different levels, by skywalks (‘streets in the sky’). The neighbourhood is located in Amsterdam North and was designed in 1963 by the Dutch modernist architect Frans Van Gool. The neighbourhood, due to the lack of maintenance and absence of a proper urban open space, was lacking a central open-air area able to attract the different users and host potential activities.
In fact, in addition to the strong residential presence, there are also two schools facing the public space. Our proposal “Gridgrounds” creates an elongated public square of 88 m x 17 m, becoming a key central node where all paths could converge, becoming a new centrality for the neighbourhood.
The asphalt square is based upon the original neighbourhood grid designed by Van Gool and it is made visual and tangible through the white thermoplastic marking lines running through the elongated space.
At the intersection points of the grid, different play elements inspired by the modernist playgrounds of Aldo van Eyck are located.
To ensure coherency, all objects were painted in orange and blue, two colours that have been used in the recent renovation of the adjacent buildings and skywalks. Through the cohesion of the colours, each object achieves a new character and identity.
Independent elements that collectively form an open-air active museum of play elements. Some of those objects were previously abandoned and scattered in neglected corners of the neighbourhood. Such elements are re-used as “ready-made” objects that become playful and sculptural elements, while on the other hand, other objects were designed as a tribute to the modernist playgrounds realised in Amsterdam during the period right after the end of World War II by architect Aldo van Eyck and inspired by the junk playground model theorized by the Danish architect Carl Theodor Sorensen, who believed playgrounds should reflect the imagination of the child rather than that of the architect.The austerity and monotony of the context is broken by the new playscape while employing the layout of the Van Gool plan.
The square is framed by the grid of plane trees and planted areas along its edges. The rectilinear form is intercepted three functional areas: an active play space developed with local schools, a passive green space that also acts as a sustainable drainage point, and by a multifunctional sports court for mini soccer, basket, dancing or others activities.
The careful placement of the elements creates different gathering points for groups of varying size, allowing different target groups to use the space simultaneously. Thanks to the presence of schools in the immediate vicinity, “Gridgrounds” is also used by the scholars for morning and afternoon breaks. During those breaks is possible to observe a playful invasion that is manifested in multiple and unexpected ways, proving the guiding design principle based on avoiding over-designed space that could limit the sense of discovery and creativity. Our material palette takes inspiration from road infrastructures, considerably cheaper than traditional open space materials: asphalt surfaces, white road marking lines (thermoplast) and “traffic orange” (RAL 2009) and “traffic blue” (RAL 5017) colours. Colourful landmarks make the space identifiable from a distance, an important factor in children’s learning process regarding spatial awareness and orientation. Even very common urban elements like the typical light post used in Amsterdam, thanks to the use of colours and the integration within the visual language of the project, become an opportunity to create new games and push the boundaries of creativity.
The low-cost materials didn’t compromise the quality of the space and the range of possible activities, but rather –here in Breedveld- create a solid and durable playscape that can be used in many unpredictable ways by visitors, with a relatively limited economic investment (300,000 € for 5000 sqm space). In that sense “Gridgrounds” becomes a sort of tangible manifesto that clearly expresses that it is possible to create a high-quality public space with a minor investment. “Gridgrounds” is a space for the community, and it creates the conditions to enhance social interactions through empowerment and engagement.
Project name: Gridgrounds
Entrant offices names: Openfabric, Dmau. (co-lead designers)
Project location: Breedveld, Amsterdam (Netherlands)
Completion year: 2017
Gross Built Area (square meters or square foot): 4,500 m²
Team: Francesco Garofalo, Daryl Mulvihill, Olivier Sobels, Jacopo Gennari Feslikenian.
Client: Amsterdam Municipality, Richard Krajicek Foundation