PlayCubes™: Shaping the Future of Play

The Geometry of Cooperation

The remarkable achievement of R. Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome of the 1950s was an inspiration to many architects, with its use of polyhedron structures. He created a “synergetic geometry” that provided efficient enclosure of space with structural strength, eliminating the need for elaborate foundations.

One of those inspired architects was original PlayCubes inventor Richard Dattner, FAIA. You could say the story of modern PlayCubes, a groundbreaking collaboration between Dattner and Playworld, shares a similar synergetic geometry.

Unlocking Playground Potential

In the late 1960s, architect and designer Richard Dattner was determined to find ways to make playgrounds better. His 1969 book, Design for Play, emphasized play value, child-directed play, and the idea of playgrounds as experiences rather than a collection of objects planted in pavement.

Dattner demonstrated that thinking with his iconic cuboctahedron creation, PlayCubes. Their striking geometry provided an open-ended form that left interpretation up to the child’s creativity and imagination.

Dattner’s PlayCubes were a hit. Thanks to their scalability, ease of installation, and play value, they were installed on playgrounds around the world. Despite their popularity, that first generation of PlayCubes had limitations. Originally made from fiberglass, they were difficult and expensive to manufacture.

The Enduring Power of Good Design

While the available materials and manufacturing technology of the time might have been limited, Dattner’s idea was not. In 2014, a team of Playworld play designers began discussing the possibility of reviving PlayCubes.

Working closely with Dattner to revisit the PlayCubes design, the Playworld team made modifications to enhance play value—increasing the size of the cubes and incorporating additional openings into the original design. After play testing and a few refinements, the first Playworld PlayCubes were manufactured in 2016.

Building on Opportunity

The first new PlayCubes installation occurred in Boston, MA in Chinatown Park on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, a stretch of contemporary park space dedicated to connecting people and the city. The installation was also part of The Design Museum  Foundation’s Extraordinary Playscapes exhibition, a multi-city, nomadic display that focuses on the importance and design of play. The first exhibition occurred in Boston, MA in 2016, followed by others in Portland, OR, San Francisco, CA, and Chicago, IL.

But the PlayCubes in Chinatown Park became much more than a museum piece. They became a gathering place for the surrounding neighborhoods.

“We see an entire range of ages coming to the PlayCubes playground—including young children, who use the play sculptures very differently than older children” said Playworld Play & Design Specialist Missy Benson. “Younger children climb inside thecuboctahedrons, while older children tend to play on the outside of the cubes. These unique play patterns not only allow for a large number of children playing together but also allow a wide range of user groups, including parents, grandparents, caregivers, and even teenagers!”