Storytelling through play

Storytelling through play

Large and small play installations accompany children of all ages on the arduous journey to the far-flung realm of Persia, into the fabulous treasure chambers of the court of Schleswig-Gottorf and introduce them to the discoveries of the scholar of the 17th century.

It was with the aim of inspiring the creation of innovative play elements that the architects of the State Horticultural Show in Aschersleben decided to sponsor a competition among wood carvers and sculptors. The requirement was that these should both challenge and stimulate the imagination of children in ways that standard playground equipment cannot. “In recent years, children have tended to develop a play behaviour which is simply not satisfied by mass-produced equipment but requires custom-made solutions tailored to the specific location,” commented Head Planer AW Faust of the sinai bureau on the decision to hold this exclusive competition for freelance playground equipment designers.

Herrenbreite Park, the main exhibition showground, is dominated by the gigantic sculptures constructed from innumerable pieces of oak wood by Florian Aigner. The Munich-based artist had interwoven a profusion of wooden rods, creating a tangle of elements over 32 feet high that invite visitors to climb on them. “Seen from a distance, my abstract, anarchic constructions appear to be objects that would be at home in the wilderness, the jungle, the mangrove swamps or the rainforest, where they could be encountered by somebody like Huckleberry Finn,” explained Aigner in his own words.

“What particularly attracted me to the Aschersleben project was the fact that I would be able to tell a story here. There is an underlying theme, which is something that is very unusual in the case of play equipment,” Aigner went on to say. His play landscape tells the story of three events that occurred during the adventures of Adam Olearius, who accompanied a 17th century German embassy to Russia and Persia: the crossing of the Alborz mountain range, the passage through the taiga forest and the shipwreck near Derbent. Children are encouraged to climb, jump, dangle and splash around in the mud. The special feature of the “taiga forest” is that Aigner has designed this element so that children with physical handicaps can also find opportunities for play in the “undergrowth” of the forest. Children in wheelchairs, for example, can enter the forest and dangle from the overhead branches.

Aigner’s constructions open up countless and unexpected options for climb-based play. Despite their bizarre appearance and the definite - and for children, attractive - element of risk that seems associated with them, the German certification body TÜV approved them without demur.
Aigner has designed play equipment for many garden exhibitions, particularly those held in southern Germany. His thicket of rods and bars is always created on-site, so that much of its construction is subject to the rules of chance. During the construction work, he has repeatedly been approached by children who tell him: “You are an artist. That is art.” Florian Aigner hopes to help those children who do not have the opportunity to grow up experiencing theatre, piano lessons, ballet, museums and art exhibitions to encounter art and creativity through their play.

Persian Caravanserai

Together with Florian Aigner, Gisbert Baarmann had been commissioned to create play equipment for the Herrenbreite Park, Stadtpark and Bestehornpark. The artist, who lives in Uckermark, is already well-versed in the essential elements of creating play figures, sculptural furniture and play landscapes from wood. He was one of the contributors to the Wolfsburg Horticultural Show in 2004, and young visitors attending this year’s Federal Horticultural Exhibition in Schwerin were able to enjoy the use of his play equipment.

In Herrenbreite Park, Baarmann is busy constructing his “Persian Caravanserai”. This is a two-storey desert oasis stop-over, with a water feature in its enclosed courtyard that encourages children to splash around in it. All around are plenty of opportunities for climbing, sliding, dangling and playing hide-and-seek.

In the orangery of Bestehornpark, he has found an ingenuous way, using numerous curved pieces of wood, of realising the original concept of the planners that called for the creation of a colossal, accessible orange. Light penetrates the interior of the massive sphere through gaps between the elements that are arranged like a pile of firewood. The diffused light makes climbing in three dimensions inside the sculpture even more exciting.

For the “Garden of Silence” near the Weisse Villa in Bestehornpark, Baarmann has designed a huge, six-cornered hammock in which young people can chill-out and quite literally hang out.

Children are encouraged to explore the four elements of earth, air, fire and water in the Stadtpark, where these play elements evoke the treasures that were in the charge of Olearius in the cabinet of curiosities, or wunderkammer, in Gottorf, The ‘water’ chamber will contain an open seashell that will discharge water as soon the pearl within it is touched. The water will convert the sand into the sludge so beloved of children, while the unpredictability of the water jet will provide the necessary scream factor.

The ‘clatter stones’ and ‘holey stones’ in the ‘fire’ chamber, that can be used for riding on and making a noise with, should prove to be a special attraction for younger children.

All these play sculptures will be retained in the parks following the end of the Horticultural Show. Their total cost is some € 240,000.
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