Thursday, September 23, 2010
A sociologist pinpointed the acculturative potential of modern recreation centers when he declared in 1912: “We are welding the people together as in a great melting pot on the playgrounds of Chicago!” Believing that rationalized leisure was a means of assimilating ethnically diverse, laboring populations into the majority culture, architects, landscape designers, and social reformers in Chicago constructed some of America’s first public playgrounds—initiating a nationwide “play movement.” This lecture explores how the design and programming of these leisure spaces operated as vehicles for socializing users. For example, playground landscapes were calibrated to assist “play directors” in administering games designed to impart cultural lessons on conformity, cooperation, and equality. Sports equipment and playing fields called for structured group activity, which combated laissez-faire individualism and assimilated immigrants under the banner of team spirit, while emerging “germ theory” prompted officials to offer public health programs. Though formalized playgrounds initiated many positive reforms, this talk also suggests ways they perpetuated existing bourgeois values, especially with regards to race, class, and gender.
Jennifer Gray (PhD Candidate, Graduate School of Architecture, Columbia University) is a lecturer at MoMA and is working on her dissertation Ready for Experiment: Dwight Perkins and the Architectures of Social Reform in Progressive Chicago, 1893–1917.
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