Recently I stumbled upon an article in the LA Landscape blog reviewing the Playa Vista Central Park. I noticed that they commented on the playground area designed by the Office of James Burnett as: “Contemporary play area recalls a Noguchi playground”. I admit that I wasn’t familiar with Noguchi so I decided to look him up, especially because the play area is filled with our playground equipment: Waterfall, Rainbow, Jumper, Spaghetti 2, Rodeo See Saw, and a Turning Point.
Who is Isamu Noguchi?
After reading about Noguchi’s life, looking at pictures of his artistic works, and perusing his playground proposals, I understand the Noguchi reference. It’s easy to see how the sculptural forms and shapes of the Conlastic PlayPoints and the playful mounds are reminiscent of his style.
Noguchi (1904-1988) was one of the most innovative sculptors of the 20th Century. An avid traveller, he incorporated stylistic elements from Japanese gardens, large-scale art pieces in Mexico, and marble carving from Italy. At the age of 22, he was introduced to the designs of sculptor Constantin Brancusi, which completely altered his concept of innovation in sculpture. He absorbed the techniques of creating flowing lines and round monolithic ideals during the next four years, where he was mentored on a Guggenheim Fellowship in the studio of Brancusi himself.
For a long time, Noguchi’s work was mostly ignored by the American artistic community, until he was commissioned to create a sculpture for the Associated Press building in Rockefeller Center in New York City. After this, his fanciful, modern sculptures began to appear regularly in architectural magazines and art museums.
Noguchi was no artistic elitist. He really loved to collaborate and create new ways of sharing his sculptural ideals. He even worked with choreographer Martha Graham in designing sets for the Clytaemestra Ballet in 1958.
During the 1960s, Noguchi teamed up with architect Louis Kahn to begin a revolutionary playground design. Despite their best efforts, and five years of intense architectural design effort, only a single U.S. playground was realized. Of this experience, Noguchi said:
“Each time there would be some objection—and Louis Kahn would then always say, ‘Wonderful! They don’t want it. Now we can start all over again. We can make something better’” (Diana Witcher, “Isamu Noguchi’s Utopian Landscapes: The Sculpture of Playgrounds and Gardens,” Journal of Student Research, University of Wisconson)
Noguchi and Kahn’s legacy is nothing short of inspired. Check out the amazing pictures of Piedmont Park in Atlanta, GA. And, although there is only one of the breathtaking Noguchi playgrounds in the U.S., there have been other installed Noguchi playgrounds in Japan. You can learn more about the playground in Sapporo, and the one in Yokohama on Sweet Juniper’s blog.
Goric and Noguchi: Friends in Play
Before now, I had no idea that we have a similar outlook and philosophy as the artist, Noguchi. It turns out that we both want children to have a place to play which ignites their creativity and imagination; a place that is functional and attractive, even sculptural, using different textures and landscape forms.
The picture above is Noguchi’s “Mountain”, an all-encompassing sculpted area offering many different seasonal activities: amphitheater, seating, water slide, hill for snow sledding and a reflection pool. The Mountain was never built but I think the concept is as inspiring as are his other designs and ideas.
I’ll leave you with one more picture which perfectly illustrates Noguchi’s aspiration to combine beauty, function and play. This is certainly the most beautiful slide I have ever seen.