His Inner Child
"Is he an adult or a child?" grandmother Wendy Kantor wonders...
Nicholas Tamarin -- Interior Design, 9/1/2010 10:00:00 AM
"Is he an adult or a child?" grandmother Wendy Kantor wonders. She's watching David Rockwell and her granddaughter, who gives her age as 4 ½, build a structure out of royal-blue foam blocks. It's a Monday morning in August, and the Interior Design Hall of Fame member is visiting his pro bono Imagination Playground en route to his day job at the Rockwell Group, where he's currently working on a Danny Meyer restaurant for the Whitney Museum of American Art and sets for A Free Man of Color, a John Guare play at Lincoln Center Theater.
Rockwell's playground, a passion project he calls "the most satisfying of my career," germinated over a five-year period. Seeds were planted when he found himself concerned over the state of the tot lots where he was taking his own son and daughter. After studying Louis Kahn and Isamu Noguchi's 1960's playground proposal for Riverside Park and Europe's aptly named Adventure Playgrounds, Rockwell decided to eschew the usual jungle gyms and swing sets in favor of the "loose parts," sand pits, and water elements that encourage unstructured play addressing both body and brains. He simultaneously began cold-calling the city elites he befriends through his paid work. "David literally contacted me and said, ‘Can we talk about a new paradigm in playground design?'" New York City Department of Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe reports. Fortuitously, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation had already earmarked a parking lot across from South Street Seaport to become a playground.
About 200 sketches later, Rockwell had outlined a site plan shaped like an infinity symbol. It contains the Aquatheater, a series of wading pools; the Listening Forest and the larger Whispering Forest, both built from red-painted cast-iron pipe; and the Crow's Nest, a red-painted steel cylinder with stairs curving up to a lookout platform. Squishy green matting, which flows around the Crow's Nest and the two Forests, is said to be Mayor Michael Bloomberg's favorite part.