Recap: Extraordinary Playscapes

January 18, 2017 | | View Comments

This past fall, we officially kicked off our biggest season yet with Extraordinary Playscapes. This exhibit was quite literally years in the making and focused on two things we care deeply about: play and our awesome city. A combination of research, collaboration, and amazing partnerships lead to our largest—and most fun—program to date!

The exhibit itself—which continues its nationwide tour with the San Francisco Public Library and Chicago—is comprised of extensive case studies, dioramas, and interactive play installations; but what really makes the exhibit extraordinary are the attendees.


The opening at PNCA’s Center for Contemporary Art & Culture was met with a bustling collection of people from various backgrounds. Parents and kids, designers, play enthusiasts, and students enjoyed the interactive exhibition and took full advantage of each new play opportunity throughout the season. 



Some of the most valuable components of the Extraordinary Playscapes exhibit were our amazing partnerships with Playworld and the Portland Parks & Recreation. Together, we installed PlayForm 7 — a new sculptural play piece from Playworld — as part of the exhibit right at the North Park Blocks outside PNCA. 

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Children from the Emerson School could barely contain their excitement when kicking off the ribbon cutting ceremony with Portland Parks Commissioner, Amanda Fritz. PlayForm 7 has experienced a lot of love and use from local classrooms, students, other visitors (and even some unexpected snow!) in its temporary home, and we’re thrilled that the playground will continue to provide play opportunities in its future permanent location at Ventura Park.

In true Design Museum fashion, we continued to create a city-wide celebration of design and play through our Playground Passport, thought-leadership events, and and epic kids workshops.

IMG_20161117_191912Katie Shook, MUDLAND; Michael Laris, Playworld; Cody Goldberg, Harper’s Playground; and Christina Frank, MIG discuss the importance of play and designing a more playful future at our “UNITE: How Portland Does Play” panel discussion.
During our summer workshops, kids designed their dream play environments and jumped right into exploring cardboard and ‘junk’ when building their own adventure playgrounds with Pop-Up Adventure Playgrounds.

Design Museum beacons in local parks also celebrated the designs and told the stories behind some of Portland’s most amazing playgrounds; who designed them, what strategies they use, and more. Kʰunamokwst Park, Westmoreland Park Nature Playground, Harper’s Playground, and The Fields Park are only a few examples of great design and dedication to play in Portland, and we loved featuring these parks as part of our Playground Passport.


Case studies featuring two of Portlands most beloved playgrounds—Harper’s Playground and Westmoreland Park Nature Playground—will continue to travel with the Extraordinary Playscapes exhibit as it tours the country. Featuring these two amazing stories about community, inclusion, and meaningful design has been a highlight of the exhibit, and we look forward to continuously celebrating Portland’s commitment to play with the traveling program. 


Harper’s Playground is a play space at Arbor Lodge Park where children and adults of all abilities play together. Designed by Place Studio, MIG, and Girvin Associates, Harper’s Playground was a community effort that addresses three important issues surrounding play: playgrounds that segregate play for those with varying abilities; children of all abilities lacking outdoor, free playtime critical to their well-being; and communities without opportunities to build a sense of connection and engagement. The design eliminates the typical play structures, pathways, ramps, and surfacing that often limits those with differing abilities, particularly those with mobility limitations.

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After updates to the the previously outdated play area, Westmoreland Park now features a 100% custom nature-based play environment where families build their own experiences. Designed by GreenWorks in collaboration with artist Adam Kuby and the City of Portland, the site is designed for kids to experiment with sand and water, climb on boulders and log features, and build forts with large sequoia branches — offering opportunities to explore natural materials and target important developmental areas for children.

We’ve had such a pleasure highlighting and celebrating great design and the importance of play in Portland this season — thanks for joining in on the fun and continuing to encourage meaningful and unlimited play for all!

Enjoyed the exhibit? Take our Extraordinary Playscapes Survey and leave us some feedback!