Brutalist housing estates introduced a radical new type of playground design: concrete polygonal shapes, ramps or holes in walls encouraged children to take risks and explore the tough world out there. One of the most striking brutalist playscapes in Switzerland can be found at Grünau social housing estate in Zurich Altstetten.
Ralph Bänziger, a young man working for architect Walter Moser, was tasked with designing the estate’s school yard. Bänziger came up with three concrete loops that could be entered and walked around in. Varying in tone from ‘brut’ to washed-out terracota, the structures blend in elegantly into the yard as well as into the pre-existing wall separating the school from the residential area. The original setting also included a shallow pool, but its maintenance soon proved too costly. Bänziger’s congenial loops proved an immediate hit. But not quite in the way he had envisaged.
Max Bill’s ‘Infinity Loop’ (1947) may have served as an inspiration, but in the eyes of the school kids, the loops looked like perfect skating ramps (the craze hit Switzerland shortly after the loops’ completion in 1977). A clear no-go for both architect and the school authorities. Metal baseboards were added, effectively killing much of the fun. But the hard surfaces still spell danger. It might explain the loops’ enduring appeal with the local youths.