BASE CAMP BELLEVILLE

Clinging to a vertiginous cliff face in the 20th arrondissement’s Parc de Belleville is a curious playground. Here, all vestiges of absorbent wood chips, spongy rubber mats, and safety cords have been banished. In place of the friendly, litigation avoidant materials one would expect of a proper childhood concourse, BASE (build a super environment) deploys bare concrete, timber pylons, and shards of steel.  Seeing it for the first time makes even well-conditioned urbanites want to immediately don a helmet and knee pads. In the absence of monkey bars and swings, one encounters something that is an abstracted combination of fortress and ship, punctured by hidden tunnels, sound scoops, obstacles, and sudden drops. A network of ropes encourages children to scale an impossibly angled wooden wall.  A concealed slide spits them out at top speeds questionably close to a vertical circulation path.

The result is a space which allows the imagination to wander. No gesture is prescribed. No signage. No warnings. Every surface flexibly conceived for a myriad of possible appropriations. Some slopes are highjacked by parents sunbathing. Others are transformed into imaginary universes for risk-inclined toddlers and tweens. Since its inauguration in 2008, this €1.1 million public project has been flocked. And not a single accident, not even a nosebleed, reported.

At the top of the climb there is payoff: a playhouse and an exceptional view of the city. If you squint hard you can imagine a view beyond the banlieue.

– Jordan johnson