Yet a recent project developed by Italy’s Fondazione Riccardo Catella (a foundation that promotes initiatives in urban development), and presented during the last Fuori Salone in Milan, has underlined the primary role that design has in supporting this right of children. Design, architecture and urban planning all share the same responsibility: the enhancement of the quality of everyday life and experiences.

Allowing children to play in a constructive and fun environment and to learn from the sharing of their experiences is certainly one of the main duties of any community. Yet – also due to poor design, town planning or maintenance – it is often impossible for children to take full advantage of the right to play.

It is almost natural to ask the design community for an answer to this challenge. Leveraging on the existing list of childrens’ rights with regard to playing (right to silence, smells, wilderness, laziness, being dirty, using hands and being on the road), listed by the Convention of Infants’ Rights, the Fondazione Catella commissioned seven designers to develop installations that would help and support kids with normal abilities, as well as those temporarily or permanently disabled.

The result was a playful landscape in which children could run from one installation to the other. The ground was covered with tactile tiles for the visually  impaired, and all entrances to the play areas were free of architectural barriers. Each designer created emotional spaces in which the mind was drawn into thinking, after the senses had been stimulated.

To celebrate the right of silence, Antonio Citterio came up with Happy Silence – a protected place built inside a little open house, painted in happy colours, where children could experience total quietness and be completely safe and calm, alone or with other children. Once inside, the space was full of softened sounds and noises, thanks to the use of soundproof materials.

Matali Crasset’s contribution was a house with a big pig’s snout for front doors, containing things to stimulate the sense of smell. Children were able to sniff fragrances coming from vases full of herbs, and flowers hung down from the ceiling, creating a kind of jungle or fantastic garden.

Playful as always, Stefano Giovannoni took the ‘right to the wild’ idea and turned it into Big Faces, a group of plastic spheres with scary mask-like features that provided a hiding place for kids.

James Irvine developed a ‘lazy-scape’ composed of rock-shaped seats where children could sit or climb among shapes that looked like nothing you’d ever find in a city.

In the tradition of mud pies, Gabriele Pezzini made a long table where children could get messy with water, soil and sand.

Franco Raggi’s creation was a celebration of the right to the road, a glance back to the time when children could play just outside their front door without worrying about traffic or safety.

His ‘racetrack’ for tollini – collectable bottle caps that could be personalised with photos of bike champions – is raised so that children who are unable to get down on their knees can play too.

Raggi also created a labyrinthine road game where children could hide between entrance and exit, which was perfectly suited for kids with sight problems.

Tobia Repossi’s playground equipment for children of every age focused on manual skills, social spirit and competitiveness.  

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