East 72nd Street Playground

The East 72nd Street playground is located just south of the entrance to the drive from Fifth Avenue, and across from the East Green. A path and narrow planting margin separate the playground from the lawn. As a result, the playground is highly visible from the adjacent park. The original playground was built between 1935 and 1936 as part of the perimeter playground system. It was rebuilt in 1969 as an adventure-style playground, based on a design by the architect Richard Dattner. Similar to the other playgrounds Dattner designed in Central Park, this playground included a granite-faced concrete pyramid, a wooden tree house and other climbing structures, and a unique water feature. The playground was reconstructed again in 2000. Wooden play elements that had deteriorated were redesigned and reconstructed. The sand surfacing that existed throughout the playground was reduced and replaced with rubber safety surfacing. Concrete play structures were reconstructed and modified to improve circulation and accessibility. The existing footprint was expanded slightly to accommodate the addition of toddler swings.

The playground is loosely divided into three play areas surrounded by an angular wall, and the more-recently added toddler swing area at the south end. At the north end of the playground, near the entrance, is the water feature: a sunken amphitheater into which water sprays from a concrete pier that is part of a fortress-like structure, with an upper level connected by ramps. The main play space is in the center of the playground. It comprises a sand-filled zone containing tire swings, a net climber, and granite-faced climbing pyramid with slides and a tunnel. Near the south end is a raised area of undulating safety surface with a large wooden treehouse. The wall surrounding these three areas unites them and defines the play space. Intended to demarcate the world of children from that of adults, it also acts as a barrier to access: In several locations, the space between the wall and the benches at the perimeter of the playground is very narrow, impeding the flow of circulation around the play area. While most parents and caregivers report that they visit this playground because of its convenient location, many also indicate that they appreciate the play features and equipment. One of the playground’s defining features is the manner in which its equipment and design provide a variety of play opportunities in each of its relatively small play areas. In particular, children are able to challenge themselves with different types of climbing on the net climber, the pyramid, and the wooden tree house. These perches also provide them with the opportunity to view the playground and environs from different perspectives.

Design Goals and Opportunities

This playground was rebuilt relatively recently. It therefore requires only focused improvements and refinement of the current design to achieve the design objectives of the program of work to raise all of the Park’s playgrounds to the same level at the same time. Work in this playground will take advantage of new materials, technologies, and information to add play value, increase accessibility, improve the relationship to the Park, and make the playground more sustainable. The concrete structure at the northern end of the playground represents a key opportunity. The lower level contains the water-spray amphitheater, from which a ramp leads to an upper level consisting of a small open space with minimal play value. One possibility for animating this space is to expand the water play by introducing a water source on this upper level. Other potential improvements include modifications to the wall around the play area to improve the accessibility and flow of activity throughout the playground; introduction of permeable paving and user-operated spray features; replacing trees lost in the last ten years; and augmenting landscape planting around the perimeter to create the sense of a play environment enveloped in greenery.