If you’re feeling a little yawnish about your neighborhood playground, you have to check this out.

Design Museum Portland, Pacific Northwest College of Arts (PNCA), and Playworld recently opened Extraordinary Playscapes, an exhibition featuring over 40 pioneering play spaces from around the world. The exhibition explores the latest thinking in playground design while presenting how vital free play is to childhood development, thriving communities, and social equity. From towering treetop playgrounds to hand-knit crochet installations (yup, you read that right!), visitors will discover how architects and designers worldwide are engaging diverse communities to translate play objectives into state-of-the-art and meaningful play environments.


“Our goal is to connect Portland to the free play movement through an exceptional public exhibition about the design of playscapes,” says Sam Aquillano, executive director of Design Museum Foundation and co-curator of the exhibition. “There are so many examples of extraordinary playscapes in the world, and were hoping to inspire Portlanders of all ages to get outside and play.”


Among the many sites on display, the exhibition will feature: a project that reimagined a scrapped ambulance as a children’s hospital playground in Malawi, Africa; examples of how Danish design integrates nature and play; and innovative play-centered design happening right here in Portland. As an interactive experience, Extraordinary Playscapes includes playable installations, videos, scale models, and hands-on elements for viewers as they explore the art, history, and science behind the world of play.

“Play is the very backbone of childhood development. It is through a window of play that children experience the world around them and form social, cognitive, creative, spatial, and sensory skills upon which they build the rest of their development into adulthood,” said Michael Laris, vice president, Global Innovation for PlayPower, Playworld’s parent company. “The Extraordinary Playscapes exhibition is incredibly needed, as it highlights the importance of play in general and focuses on how design has the power to change and improve the way we experience the world around us and the relationships we form.”

Extraordinary Playscapes is totally free and open to the public. It is on view now until December 17, 2016 at PNCA’s Center for Contemporary Art and Culture. The exhibition will then travel to San Francisco and Chicago through 2017.


And mark your calendars for November 6, where you can design, build and play at a Pop-Up Adventure Playground at Playform 7 at PNCA. (RSVP recommended.)

Looking for more ideas for not-your-average playgrounds? Check out our list of nature playgrounds here, and our list of destination playgrounds here. You can also check out our round-up of area museums here.

Ali Wilkinson
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