|Photo from: http://archrecord.construction.com/features/stick together structure/slideshow.asp|
‘Who would think to build something like that?’ That’s what Eric Lennartson thought when he saw a photograph of a sculpture in a weekly e-mail from an architecture magazine. Eric is an architect in Mankato (MN) and on the board of the emerging Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota (CMSM). Fascinated by this art installation and excited to see evidence of children using it, Eric thought it would fit in with the kind of experiences the emerging museum was interested in for its Play Lab. CMSM’s temporary base of operation, Play Lab is introducing the children's museum to the community while it is focusing on how exhibits play with children and families and how children and families play with exhibits.
|Plastic wrap stretched across the steel frame|
Twisting and Somewhat Tubular
|Tubular forms take shape|
Unexpected ripples in the responsive surface challenge and inspire children’s and adults’ movements. Stand where the floor slopes up as someone passes by and suddenly you will be sliding down on your backside; the soft and easy landing is simply too inviting not to do it again very much on purpose. Crawl up the side and let yourself slide back; do it with a friend or two or three in shared delight. Take a running start, drop to your knees and you can feel like you are making a sensational slide into home base.
|The challenges of slopes, rises and ripples|
These physical challenges have significant value for younger children. If you have just learned to crawl or walk on an even and stable surface, adjusting your balance to navigate an undulating surface is quite an accomplishment. You may be able to walk up a small firm slope in the front yard, but what will happen when the floor becomes the wall? Opportunities for developing and practicing spatial awareness and skills in TapeScape are plentiful and varied. For children as well as for adults, practice in negotiating an ambiguous space with people moving in unpredictable ways is highly valuable.
TapeScape is a good example of the More Varied Environments for children I wrote about here recently. It’s a sculptural somewhat ambiguous environment. It’s immersive, but not thematic. It affords full-body movement and sensory exploration that is not readily available in homes, neighborhoods, schools, playgrounds, nature centers, or museums. With its novel use of familiar materials it is fresh and innovative and sustains interest. The experience, or play, value TapeScape offers is high, in fact, very high.
A Changing Landscape
Building TapeScape took place right there on the Play Lab floor over several weeks. Children and adults saw the pipes go up and the structure take shape. They watched as the layering, wrapping, and scaping came into view. Because Eric and his fellow tapescapers were also visiting Play Lab and watching as children and adults used it, TapeScape has continued to evolve. Modifications have been added, and repairs have been made.
|Adding a horizontal (red) tube slowed down the running.|
TapeScape is in a permanent state of prototyping. The ability to slice-and-tape to repair and shape means the structure can evolve based on use. Play Lab staff and volunteers have brought an experimental mindset to TapeScape. They are using weekly observations, discussion, an interest in extending play and understanding how children explore and use space to rethink and change TapeScape.
TapeScape straddles an interesting and unusual position for a museum exhibit. It is unashamedly plastic and, in fact, fascinating because of the responsiveness and light qualities of the plastic. On the one hand it has an elegant gyroidal shape and, on the other, it is relatively unfinished with low production values compared to most exhibits.
Requiring about 200 volunteer hours to build, another 100 hours to make changes and repairs, and about $5,000 in materials, TapeScape has been a nimble response by a resourceful young museum to finding experiences that support its mission and goals, engage its audience, and offer insights into play and exploration.
A Sticky Idea
TapeScape seems to have immediate appeal. Eric first saw the image of the structure in October 2010. Construction began in January 2011 and TapeScape was open and fully owned by Play Lab visitors in February. I have been fortunate and fascinated to see it grow so quickly on my monthly visits to Play Lab. In just a few months, it’s also drawn interest from several museums and museum planners.
This marvelous structure won’t last forever. It probably isn’t able to stand up to tens-of-thousands of museum visitors. And in May when Play Lab closes its doors, TapeScape will become a huge tape ball. TapeScape, no doubt, has a promising and interesting future. Maybe you’ll find it at a museum near you.