Tuesday, March 31, 2009
THE PORTABLE PLAYGROUND
Avoiding to a fixed form and functions, we build for short-term use or, alternatively, attempt the product to make itself adaptable. We 'play it cool' technology. There are other responses besides disposability that also leads to the same psychological effect. For example, we are now witnessing the wholesale creation of objects designed to serve a series of short-term purposes instead of one single one. These are not throw-away items. They are usually too big and expensive to discard. But they are so constructed that they may be dismantled, if necessary, relocated after each use. Thus the board of education of Los Angeles has decided that fully 25 per cent of that city's classrooms will, in the future, be temporary structures that can be moved around as needed. Every major United States school district today uses some temporary classrooms. More are on the way. Indeed, temproary classrooms are to the school construction industry what paper dresses are to the clothing industry - a foretaste of the future. The purpose of temporary classrooms is to help school systems cope rapidly with shifting population densities. But temproary classrooms, like disposable clothes, imply man-thing relationships of shorter duration than in the past. Thus the temporary classroom teaches something even in the absence of the teacher. Like the Barbie doll, it provides the child with a vivid lesson in the impermanence of her surroundings. No sooner does the child internalize a thorough knowledge of the classroom - the way it fits into the surrounding architechture, the way the desks feel on a hot day, the way sound reverberates in it, all the sbutle smells and textures that individualize any structure and lend it reality - than the structure itself may be physically removed from her environment to serve other children in another place. Nor are mobile classrooms a purely American phenemenon. In England, architect Cedric Price has designed what he calls a 'thinkbelt' - an entirely mobile university intnded to serve 20,000 students in North Staffordshire. 'It will,' he says, 'rely on temperory buildings rather than permanent ones.' It will make 'great use of mobile and variable physical enclosures' - classrooms, for example, built inside railway carriages so that they may be shunted anywhere along the four-mile campus. Geodesic domes to house expositions, air-inflated plastic bubbles for use as command posts or construction head-quarters, a whole array of pick-up-and-move temporary structures are flowing from drawing boards of engineers and architechts. In New York City, the Department of Parks has decided to build twelve 'portable playgrounds' - small, temporary playgrounds to be installed on vacant city lots until other uses are found for that land, at which time the playgrounds can be dismounted and moved elsewhere. There was a time when a playground was a reasonable permenant fixture in a neighbourhood, when one's children and even, perhaps, one's children's children might, each in their turn, experience it in roughly the same way. Super-industrial playgrounds however, refuse to stay put. They are temporary by design.