I traveled to Norway this month for a vacation with my good friends Emily and Joel. Emily and I have been playmates for years, united by our mutual Scandinavian ancestry and zeal for playing with our food (Emily records her experimentation here at Five and Spice).

I knew, from once living in the city of Lund in southern Sweden for half a year, that Scandinavian countries take play very seriously. What I wasn’t completely prepared for was the ubiquity of playgrounds that were truly innovative. In every city we visited, a playground seemed to push the limits of what we expect children to be able to do.

Geopark, in Stavanger, was the high point of this experimentation with limits. Staged just outside the Oil Museum, the playground uses leftover stuff from the oil industry to create a fantastic landscape for play. Big, buoyant, orange balls that once buffeted docks become the most amazing “bounce field” I’ve ever seen. Steel construction elements that look like giant bedpans form places to jump and climb. On a rainy afternoon like the one on which I visited, the playground feels one part apocalyptic, Mad Max, graffiti-covered landscape and one part Disney acid dream: a potent combination.

Paige Johnson of the Playscapes blog does a nice write-up of the thoughtful, very user-focused design process taken on by Helen and Hard  behind the project here.

During my visit, an eight-year-old in a white karate uniform with a white belt played among the pipes. He was a classic avenger in the sand. I wondered what he was thinking about as he hid and emerged, emerged and hid.

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