East 79th Street Playground

This playground is located just south of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The proximity to the entrance to the Museum’s parking garage on one side and the 79th Street Transverse Road on the other results in the playground relating more to the street than the Park. Dense plantings help to buffer the space from the museum and the road. The adjacent landscape to the west includes a lawn that is frequently used by school groups.

The playground was built in 1991 to replace Levy Playground, which was constructed just west of the current site in 1956. That playground, not part of the original perimeter playground system, was the result of a philanthropic gift from the Levy Foundation, and included an ornamental gate with animal figures. The current playground was built on a site closer to the perimeter, and the former playground site was restored as landscape. The gate was integrated in the new playground design. In conjunction with this work, a seating area featuring a bronze casting of Paul Manship’s Group of Bears was created outside the entrance to the playground. (In 1953, the maquette for this sculpture was incorporated by Manship on one of the piers of the Osborn Gates, which are now located at the threshold to Ancient Playground: a link between the two playgrounds that flank the Met). The sculpture sits in a small bench-lined circular plaza, establishing a distinctive forecourt to the small playground containing only a few play features. A spiral slide is installed in a sandbox in the center of the playground, which also contains two metal climbers, bucket swings, and a standard water-spray feature. The playground primarily appeals to children between the ages of two and five.

The plaza surrounding the sculpture is well-used by families and other park visitors as a place to sit and relax. Otherwise, the playground offers few distinctive features. Most playground visitors indicate that they use the playground because of its location—either its proximity to home or to the museum. Other attributes cited by visitors as reasons for visiting the playground include its small size, making it easy to keep track of younger children, and equipment that appeals to younger children.

Design Goals and Opportunities

The playground’s preschool-age user group, small size, and proximity to Ancient Playground (which is well-used by older children) suggest an approach focused on designing a more distinctive and engaging play area for younger children. The playground could include equipment specifically scaled for the space and for small children and featuring the innovative use of water and sand to provide opportunities for manipulative and sensory play.