The German psychoanalyst Erik Erikson said: 'Play needs firm limits, then free movement within these limits. Without firm limits there is no play'. Erikson was concerned with psychological, cultural and social issues, but his insight could equally be applied to spatial freedom and constraints.
At the Kintore Way Children's Centre in Bermondsey (see Building Study on pages 23-35) the playground is fragmented by picket fences which act as holding pens, corralling children of different age groups into self-contained groups.
Different classes are allowed into the central garden on a rota throughout the day. This apparently innocuous detail of management and planning has clear practical advantages in preventing overcrowding and protecting children from the ravages or demands of those older or younger than themselves. But it also has intriguing consequences for the way the playground is perceived. In restricting access to what might have been seen as an obvious public space, the architect has allowed for a variety of spatial experience; a pattern to the day defined not only by changes in activity but by changes in the environment. An architectural shift with an attendant change in mood.
In an age of 24-hour activity, it is easy to forget that our enjoyment of the urban realm can be informed as much by frisson and rhythm as by formal expression: the silent serenity of a deserted shopping street in the days before Sunday opening; the unparalleled pleasure of playing on an empty building site in the days of cursory security regimes.
The garden at Kintore Way is pleasant enough, but modest in facilities and size. In other circumstances any child would tire of its treasures within half an hour or so. But restricted access is a powerful tool. Visible but out of bounds, it holds the tantalising promise of imagined pleasures; a rare treat for a special time of day.