photo of children playing on play structure

Build Your Own Backyard Play Structure-Inspired by Serious Play

Does your backyard need a DIY play structure this summer? Look no further!

Serious Play: Design in Midcentury America features designs and models for play equipment by midcentury architects, and even a play sculpture you can climb on by Isamu Noguchi. There are also renderings of play structure designs by husband-and-wife team Douglas and Maggie Baylis. Maggie was a graphic designer, artist, and writer, and Douglas was a landscape architect. The two were known for their how-to gardening columns in magazines like House Beautiful and Better Homes & Gardens.

Around 1960, they created a series of "Play Projects"—children's play equipment designed to be built at home from simple plywood shapes. The four structures included a series of ramps titled Freeway; a rocking triangle called Tippy-Totter; Climbing Tower with a ladder and lookout point; and the most flexible, a series of four graduated triangles that could stack together for climbing and sitting, called the Plyform.

Plans for plywood play structure
Tri-Tower Handy Plans. Courtesy of APA – The Engineered Wood Association.

The Plyform, renamed Tri-Tower, made the jump from conceptual to commercial. The Douglas Fir Plywood Assocation (DFPA) (now APA – The Engineered Wood Association) distributed the plans for the Tri-Tower. The structures were designed to be constructed from plywood and painted with durable outdoor paints to withstand rough-and-tumble creative and active play. Children were encouraged to play with the four shapes, which provided "almost endless possibilities for assembling, reassembling, crawling through, lifting, and dragging." In addition to the Baylis' play structure, the DFPA distributed plans for build-it-yourself storage walls, patio sets, and more, and encouraged the use of their certified plywood.

You can download the instructions and plans for the Tri-Tower, courtesy of APA – The Engineered Wood Association archives. You also can see a full-size model of the Tri-Tower we built for Serious Play: Design in Midcentury America in the exhibition now. If you build your own Tri-Tower, let us know! Take a photo and share it online with the hashtag #SummerofPlay2019.

Image at top: Baylis Play Structures, Douglas and Maggie Baylis Collection. Environmental Design Archives, University of California, Berkeley. Photograph by Ernest Braun.

Kati Woock is the editor in the publications department. Kati has been at the DAM since 2014 and formerly served as the senior curatorial assistant in the architecture and design department.

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