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Fluid structures: a climbing frame

Russian households have a long history of indoor climbing frames, created as a space for a physical development and play. Our house in the Netherlands was no different and for many years we had a small scale climbing structure (Early start) in the middle of our living room, used extensively for physical activities, lounging and playing. Its best feature was openness: the frame could be turned onto any side, afforded multiple uses and could be extended endlessly with add-ons and accessories. When the kids grew out of it, I sold it to a friend with a newborn and promised to the kids that we will create something similar that can grow with them further.

So, what did we expect from the new structure?

  • A space for physical activity on a spectrum between gymnastics/climbing and lounging/intuitive movement with elements of sensory integration therapy. The sport side of it is more or less obvious. There is probably more scientific explanation to what I call “intuitive movement”, but simply put it’s about providing opportunities for the kids to engage in sensory activities that their bodies need. Since hammocks are big in our household I know that nesting and swinging are something that is definitely appreciated.
  • A structure to play and explore. A space that could be turned into a scene for their play – a house, a ship, a movie scene. A space that could be converted by them into what they need, providing opportunities to practice with form and function while configuring something that they need. And, as I like it with everything in life, it should be hackable: giving a sense of ownership and inspiring tinkering.
  • Something that fit other requirements: realistic budget and amount of work, repurposing of what we have, cool learning experience for the whole family and the most important thing relative invisibility, since we, as parents, would like to have a sense of living room, where we can relax and hang out with out friends without feeling that we are in the middle of a playground (while actually being in the middle of playground :))).

Of course, it was designed and build together with the kids. I spent hours on Pinterest looking at ideas, designs and ready-made solutions. Kids thought of dream structures and  desired uses, some of which (a tower with a usable top and a hiding space in the heating space under the floor) made Robert scared of raising unrealistic expectations. We looked at what was needed and what we could use.

We already had a climbing wall in Alexander’s room, which wasn’t getting much use, because it afforded a limited number of opportunities (climbing with a connection to high bed, attaching one end of a hammock, hanging things). We also had two rings in the ceiling of the living room, which provided opportunities to hang various sport attachements (rings, rope ladder) as well as all sorts of nest and swings. The rings were a hell of a work to put in place, but very versatile and practically invisible without things attached to them.

Combining those two options gave us opportunities to go 3D in the space between the wall and the ceiling. We finally got a good use of all those threaded holes in the climbing wall, various hanging attachments that we have, carabiners and other climbing equipment from Alexander and an excessive number of hammocks that we have in our house. The only things I find missing are a net (to climb and to make a nest higher up) and a figuring out a way to use rings in the middle of the living room together with the wall structure.

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