The Brutalist Playground

The Brutalist Playground, RIBA, 2015 © RIBA, photographer Tristan Fewings/Getty Images
Churchill Gardens estate in Pimlico, London, 1978. Photograph: Arch Press Archive/RIBA
The Brutalist Playground, RIBA, 2015 © RIBA, photographer Tristan Fewings/Getty Images
Park Hill estate playground, 1962. Photograph: Arch Press Archive/RIBA
The Brutalist Playground, RIBA, 2015 © RIBA, photographer Tristan Fewings/Getty Images
Balfron Tower playground, Poplar, London, 2015. Photograph: Arch Press Archive/RIBA
The Brutalist Playground, RIBA, 2015 © RIBA, photographer Tristan Fewings/Getty Images
18 Jun –
18 Sep

Press release

The Brutalist Playground

The Brutalist Playground is an exhibition by 2015 Turner Prize winner Assemble and artist Simon Terrill, exploring post-war design for play. Originally commissioned by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), this touring exhibition has been reimagined for the Brutalist icon that is the Park Hill estate in Sheffield. Featuring a new commission based on Park Hill’s original playgrounds built by architects Jack Lynn and Ivor Smith between 1957-61, it investigates the materiality and visual language of post-war landscapes through an immersive, climbable and conceptual landscape.

Championed by architects and urban planners, these playgrounds were supposed to offer a safe and considered place for children’s play, while giving ‘free reign to the imagination’, actively moving away from the ‘toy-land whimsy’ found in conventional playground design.

Constructed from wood, brick and mostly concrete, these playgrounds were integrated into the surrounding landscape through their materials and form, often reflecting architectural preoccupations of the time.

By the early 1970s, these designs were falling out of favour, receiving criticism from the architectural community and child welfare campaigners. As a result many playgrounds have been lost or redeveloped, deemed unsuitable for play. A lesser-known aspect of the history of social housing, there is little material evidence of these spaces today, yet photographs, drawings and written descriptions can be found in archives and libraries. Consigned to the archive, they stand as a curious footnote in the wider narrative of post-war reconstruction.

The Brutalist Playground seeks to establish a contemporary narrative for these objects and ideas. It shifts the focus away from the much debated post-war residential buildings, largely remembered for their social and structural failures, to the equally important playgrounds found at the feet of these structures, allowing for renewed understanding of the architects’ original designs and intentions.

For this project, architectural collective Assemble and artist Simon Terrill have used archival materials, drawings and photographs from RIBA’s Collections to create an interactive installation that raises questions over design for play, from both a historic and contemporary perspective, with a focus on the element of risk.

Large-scale fragments of four distinct ‘Brutalist’ playgrounds from Churchill Gardens, London, Seamount Court Aberdeen, Brownfield Estate, London and Park Hill, Sheffield, have been recreated in 1:1 scale for the exhibition offering an opportunity for audiences of all ages to immersive themselves in a surreal landscape of post-war play.

The Brutalist Playground is supported by Yorkshire Festival 2016, RIBA, Arts Council England, The Elephant Trust, Urban Splash, Sheffield Town Trust and Thornbridge Brewery.

Please see our events page for a full list of associated events.


ASSEMBLE are a collective based in London who work across the fields of art, architecture and design. They began working together in 2010 and are comprised of 20 members. Assemble champion a working practice that is interdependent and collaborative, seeking to actively involve the public as both participant and collaborator in the on-going realisation of the work. In 2015 they were nominated for and won the Turner Prize for their Granby Four Streets community project in Toxteth, Liverpool.

SIMON TERRILL is an Australian artist based in London who works with photography, sculpture and installation as well as large-scale public works involving many hundreds of participants. Following a BA in Sculpture and MA in Fine Art at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne, he lectured in Critical and Historical Studies (2005-08) and at the Centre for Ideas (2003-08), both at the VCA. Recent exhibitions include Tilt at Sutton Gallery Melbourne, The Piranesi Effect at Ian Potter Museum of Art and Balfron Project at the National Trust’s 2 Willow Road.