The Brutalist Playground – 31/07/15


Ever wondered what the toilets look like in the Royal Institute of British Architects look like? Beautifully landscaped, you’d bet? Well you’d be right and now you can wonder no longer because that’s the exact spot we’re starting this blog post in. And look at this amazing sink:


And this stripy wall that the small girls enjoyed posing in front of:


And a massive mirror:


Really, this was job done for the day. We didn’t need to go the exhibition we were there for, we could just hang out in the loos for a few hours. We’d hastened in there when Eva made a panicked announcement at a cash point in New Cavendish Street, but now that she had sorted herself out we could possibly go elsewhere.

It took a little persuasion but yes, we did get back up the stairs of RIBA and into the Brutalist Playground exhibition. For those who don’t know, this is art. It looks like a soft play but it’s art, honest. Luckily it’s art that you can climb over.


It represents the innovative and not-exactly-safe concrete playgrounds of the 1970s brutalist estates but here they are recreated in slightly more child-friendly foam. It raises all sorts of questions about the “Nanny State” we live in now as opposed to the carefree era that served as a backdrop to those classic PSAs – “Apache” and “Spirit of Dark Water” spring to mind. Of course, even in this safe and soft environment, there was a bit of nannying.  The biggest piece in the exhibition was for over 5s only, which suited Roo just fine but wasn’t a popular move with the hordes of toddlers  and pre-schoolers who were romping about. Here’s the zone of schoolboys only:


We had assembled quite the review panel for this trip out – Eva’s friend J (nearly 3),her little brother R (7 months) and 17-month-old P. So , happily, I can feed back on what all ages made of it. And yes, all ages except Roo felt the pain of not being allowed on the big circle thing.

But there was plenty of other stuff to do. I’m a fan of play spaces that leave some space for imagination, and the minimalist blocks were ideal for climbing over, building on and remodelling, using these hexagonal blocks:


Roo, as ever, was the ringleader. Here he is, carrying blocks to build his hexagon sofa in the sky:


It proved very popular with a group of 3-year-old boys who were there. Eva couldn’t quite get up to the top level without a bunk up but I’m sure she could have scrambled up the slope if she’d really tried.

On  the other side, there was a flight of steps leading to both a slide and a secret “clubhouse” at the top of a tower. Roo got some of the blocks up there and managed to build a look-out platform:


I was slightly worried that he might be able to build high enough to tip himself over the edge but hey, he’d land on foam, right?


As you might guess, the whole thing isn’t made of nothing but foam – the foam is laid over plywood to make the structures. It’s been on for a while, and is showing some patches of wear (which is how I could see the wood below). The bare foam isn’t the most durable of materials, but when has art ever been about practicality?

On the upside, it made a tasty snack for baby R (that happened on my watch…I think I’ve forgotten how to handle babies). If you have a weaner-age, be aware that the foam comes out in clumps and looks fun to eat.


It was interesting to see how the different ages interacted with the exhibit. R just sat and looked at all the pretty pastel colours around him. P crawled around and managed to scale the slopes. She even breached the 5-year-old zone at one point (that was kinda on my watch too…I think I’ve forgotten how to handle toddlers). She was just about big enough for the slide and could do the steps on her own…it was a great space for her.


Eva and J enjoyed it too, running about with total abandon and occasionally trapping boys in small places. There was nothing that would get them too stuck so they didn’t have to be watched too closely…it’s also a fairly small space with one exit, so difficult to lose them entirely.


Roo, meanwhile, liked the building aspect of it, hauling blocks up slopes to create his own empire…and he liked the bit that Eva wasn’t allowed on. Obviously.


So, it worked well across the ages. So well that Eva didn’t want to leave and had to be dragged out literally kicking and screaming. She calmed down by the time we got outside and actually got to see the outside of the building:


She asked some questions about the pavements and then we were all good. We had a lunch date in Euston, so we wandered that way, passing the all-new Regents Plaza on the way. It has a grass-covered Innocent van, deckchairs and a bumpy grass bit that the kids may not may not have been allowed to walk on. So we didn’t, just to be safe, and carried on to our lunch venue.

Now, I entirely lamely failed to take a picture of this café, so let’s appropriate one from the BBC.


Nabbed from

Nabbed from

Yes, it’s the Sherlock café! Am I totally lame to be excited by that?

We were meeting my cousin and her family there and I was expecting it to be busy and crowded. But we met at 11:30 and it was fine – we got two tables close together and had a kids’ table and adults’ table next to each other (Eva sat with the adults…because she is one, according to her). By the time we left at 12:30 it was heaving so if you fancy it, go early. That probably goes for any eatery in the Euston area – they all get a bit manic and most are unfriendly and overpriced. Speedy’s was neither of the above – the service was attentive and swift, the bill reasonable and they were happy to go off-menu to bring Eva a sausage sandwich. I had the chicken and chorizo risotto and it was yummy. Reuben had a huge plate of roast beef, gravy and chips…a bizarre mix, but it wasn’t his own creation –it was actually on the menu. He didn’t finish it, but it was both big and piled. Roo loved lunching with his cousins, Eva liked looking at herself in the mirror and occasionally kissing it.

The only downside of Speedy’s is the lack of toilets but luckily I have a good Euston toilet-hack  – the Wellcome Collection. So we dived in there before the cousins had to get their train and we had to go to Liverpool St for a bit of chasing wild geese.

Weirdly enough, this was a day with very few meltdowns (the end of exhibit one excluded) and I’d mark it down as a success. All the kids seemed to love the Brutalist Playground and I would definitely recommend going before it closes on 16th August. As ever, find out more information here.

I believe they’re holding a Day of Play there on 8th August, so that would be an excellent time to pop along. And it’s free! Woohoo!


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