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Fences of Childhood: Challenging the Meaning of Playground Boundaries in Design

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Alkistis Pitsikali, Professor Rosie ParnellORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


Scholars have criticized the inability of the playground to support children’s participation in public life. The fences of childhood – walls, fences, enclosures – have come to dominate children’s ‘public’ spatial experience in the global north. Challenging well-established critiques of the fenced playground as a space of segregation and control of childhood experience, this paper offers a novel, nuanced perspective, evidencing the qualities of the fence that support play and playful connection, on, through and around it. Employing an ethnographic methodology, the study included 167 hours of observation in three typical urban public playgrounds in Greece and 61 semi-structured interviews with 124 participants. Drawing on recursive thematic qualitative analysis, the fence emerged as a blurred boundary: an element transgressing assumptions, questioning spatial classifications and hierarchies.Rarely the subject of the design discourse, these findings are particularly significant in the design disciplines globally, offering new understandings of the possibilities afforded by the fence. Emergent themes - indeterminacy, climbabilty, playability and porosity - are proposed as principles to guide playground fence design as part of a fundamental re-conceptualization. This reconceptualization positions the playground fence as public space infrastructure, supporting intergenerational interaction and play, as well as children’s presence and play in the public realm.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Pitsikali A, Parnell R

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Frontiers in Architectural Research

Year: 2020

Volume: 9

Issue: 3

Pages: 656-669

Print publication date: 01/09/2020

Online publication date: 08/04/2020

Acceptance date: 06/03/2020

Date deposited: 16/04/2020

ISSN (print): 2095-2635

ISSN (electronic): 2095-2643

Publisher: Elsevier BV


DOI: 10.1016/j.foar.2020.03.001


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