Playgrounds as we know them today can be traced back to the sand gardens of late 19th-century Germany, which resemble what we now know as sandboxes. But it wasn’t until the 1940s that urban planners and landscape designers across Europe broke from that restrictive holding-pen style, in favor of experimenting with what they called “adventure playgrounds.” These new models were meant to foster problem-solving and collaboration. Playgrounds, they argued, could become neighborhood hubs and contribute to the physical, emotional, and cognitive development of children. And they were right.
As new playground commissions emerged in cities around the world, artists began to set their sights on these spaces, as vehicles to inspire creativity and curiosity in children—though also as outlets for their own imaginations. From Jean Dubuffet’s whimsical garden in the Netherlands to Benjamin Dominguez’s “monster park” in Southern California, here are 11 of the most innovative and inspiring playgrounds designed by artists.