Adaptive Playscapes




Introduction: Adaptive Playscapes

About: I build, I teach, I learn. Happiest when covered in saw dust, sweat and machine grease. Visit for more projects and info.

Adaptive Playscapes is a collaborative project between KIDMob, Public Workshop, California College of the Arts, and the Market Street Prototyping Festival in San Francisco. The goal was to create a kid-built, mobile, modular play structure to be installed publicly on Market Street in San Francisco. For the partner organizations, the most important part was not the final product, but rather the design and building workshops that would lead up to the completion of the project. We saw it as an opportunity to teach kids about design and building skills, but also about the power they have to make change in their community.

Kids and play are some of our most powerful tools for building community and bringing together diverse populations to imagine their neighborhoods in new ways.

For the Market Street Prototyping Festival, led by a team of middle school student ‘Building Heroes’, we engaged Festival Participants in creating an ‘Adaptive Playscape’ that transformed a portion of Market Street with building and play.

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Step 1: Safety Training and Tool Practice

Many urban teens have little to no experience using power tools. We did not see this as an obstacle, but rather as an opportunity for a empowerment and learning. Our team building exercises on the first day of the workshop were combined with skill building and safety training exercises using power tools. Each student became proficient at the drill, chop saw and jig saw as well as learning how to correctly measure and mark pieces for cutting.

Step 2: Warm-up and Brainstorming Activites

Building and collaboration are at the core of what both Public Workshop and KidMob teach, it was important to jump straight into making things as a team. Our first warmup activity was to create an obstacle course on the tables outside using mostly cardboard. This activity got the student moving and gave them an opportunity to quickly brainstorm within their small teams about what to build as part of the larger group's activity. The second warmup activity was a challenge to create the tallest tower with limited materials and limited time. The goal of this activity was to encourage the kids work on rapid problem solving, teamwork and resource allocation.

Step 3: Designing and Iteration

Before the building of the final obstacle course the workshop participants were asked to create a number of small scale and full scale iterations of their ideas. Each iteration helped to solidify the ideas within the smaller teams and created an opportunity to problem solve on the go.

Step 4: Actualization of a Plan

The final day of the workshop series was dedicated the actualization of the project. Using the skills and safety training from the first day and the planning and brainstorming from the second day, the final products came together remarkably quickly.

Step 5: Finishing Touches

After the building was complete, some rope, paint and other final touches were added before installation.

Step 6: Public Play

When we started this project some people told us "Market Street is not a place for kids" and discouraged us from building a playground. These naysayers were completely and unsurprisingly wrong. Over the three day exhibition of Adaptive Playscapes hundreds of kids (and a few dogs) enjoyed climbing, jumping and crawling on the different elements.

Step 7: Participatory Activities

One of the goals of the partner organizations was for building, and place making to be more public and participatory through the integration of play and collaboration. Alongside the exhibition of the final playscape built by the students we encouraged passersby to engage in some temporary onsite budding of their own. We provided 1X3 boards with three holes drilled though them and zip ties to join them together. These simple materials are very approachable by anyone regardless of building experience and therefore lowered the mental barrier for entry into the activity. People of all ages and backgrounds worked together to create abstract and constantly changing structures though out the weekend.

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    6 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Great work. This is very inspiring, thank you!


    4 years ago

    Outstanding! As the grandfather to a wheelchair bound granddaughter this is wonderful. These projects, both for the inner city kids and kids with "diff-abilities" would make wonderful contests, wouldn't they?


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Yaahh!!! Good job Coby! Looks rad. And I'm a huge fan of Public Workshop!


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks Thiago! I'm a huge fan of you. Where are you now?