Public space is for everyone to enjoy. Many cities have made great efforts to create playgrounds: designated areas where children can have fun and simply be themselves. Although these facilities have value, they often look like cages, or isolated ‘urban islands of child friendliness’. They neither stimulate the imagination nor allow children to test their limits. All public spaces should belong to children, even the areas that don’t immediately look suitable.

Based on a study by the Belgian research centre ‘Child and Society’, the City of Ostend commissioned me to create several attractive interventions in the public space that would stimulate play. These did not involve classic play equipment but were targeted and contextual responses. The objective was to intensify the existing elements of the sites, which is not something that can be achieved via traditional playground equipment. By defining these interventions as ‘art’ rather than as an official playground for children, the more stringent rules and regulations that typically govern playground safety were circumvented.



The straw-bale fortress, located on a small hill, is visible from afar. Devoid of people, it was difficult to guess its scale. As its name suggests, this was a ‘fortress’ made from big straw bales. It is a simply enlarged (300%) version of the adjacent wooden bench, which made for a surrealistic whole : the small bench was for the parents, the large one for kids. Young and old were invited to climb up, jump on the structure and remodel it at will. It became a new landmark on this strategic location in Oostende, one of the defined viewpoints on the Green Belt (‘Groen Lint’) around the city.

The process of natural fermentation ultimately caused the structure to spontaneously combust. This happened nine months after the installation. Everybody knew that this would occur, but nobody could predict when. It was a self-destructive playground for children.

Design: Jan De Coninck

Photo credits : all photos (c) Marie-Françoise Plissart
Image credits : (c) Jan De Coninck
Manufacturer : Hempinabox, BeBamboo

Design Year: 2017
Year of Construction: 2017
Duration: 9 months


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