Sketch Günter Beltzig

Three questions to Günter Beltzig

In conversation with a Playmaker

What exactly is "playing"? What is a "playground"?

GB: To play means to deal with oneself, with one's possibilities, needs and environment, to recognise one's limits and to make the best of everything. Play is the original form of learning. Learning not only with the mind, but also with the feeling, with the body, learning as a whole. And for this learning the child needs time, freedom and space, maybe a playground.

The playground is a space for experience, for doing, for playing and thus also for gaining experience and learning. It is not possible to make a general assessment of the overall play value. They are individual play functions which can be recognised and consciously used individually on play equipment and in playgrounds: Climbing, balancing, coordinating, creative action, dreaming, training social behaviour, self-assertion in a group, but also experiencing wind, rain and sun are some of the many other play functions. They can overlap, support each other, but also block each other, prevent playing or lead to aggressive behaviour. In addition, the playground is a striking and important meeting place and thus also an important urban design element.

So what makes a well-designed playground?

GB: Such a playground could be judged by the following rules. It should offer atmosphere, convey a feeling of well-being, invite you to linger, it should have opportunities for discovery and only then become fully accessible to the seeker. Furthermore, a controllable, recognisable risk should be allowed. A well-designed playground should offer different possibilities for different moods, interests and needs, be protected from wind, sight and sound and above all make bans superfluous.

A badly designed playground, on the other hand, results from the following characteristics: It is merely a kind of "dressage course", "landscape decoration" or simply residual space use. A badly designed playground is a centralistic mono-construction for only one user group, which can be characterised by too little space, too little choice, too much monotony, too little stability, too much unkindness, too much safety and too much regulation.


How do you design children's worlds as an adult? And to what extent does what adults design for children differ from what children perceive as beautiful?

GB: A lavishly designed children's world is not the same as understanding children. It only shows us that adults want to put themselves in the centre of attention. A child-friendly environment gives children freedom of design, allows for changes and decorations that we perceive as destruction, smearing or kitsch. An environment suitable for children has its own aesthetics. Children will be different tomorrow than they are today and they will change faster than we would like, will consciously do things differently than we do. They will create their own world, their own aesthetics, and that is the very essence of being a child.

We adults will create the world of children according to different aesthetic criteria than our own environment. When we design for children, we often have the feeling that we are finally able to live out ourselves creatively, far from the demands of adult aesthetics. For children we reach for aesthetics which we consider to be funny, imaginative, unusual or of educational value or which remind us of our own childhood. We pay little attention to whether our design pleases children and meets their needs.

We adults believe that we could support the child's imagination by abstracting the form, but instead we manipulate it in the direction we have set. The child does not need any fantasy aids. A similar misunderstanding exists when we design large, over-proportional things for children: Children live in our environment, which was designed by adults for adults. In this huge world, children are the dwarfs, the little ones, who are only tolerated. All things are too big for children; they would prefer a dwarf world. That is why children find the small, homely things at eye level particularly beautiful.


Interview: Dr. Chloé Zirnstein and Anja Koller