Junkyards or Playgrounds

Common spaces are important to social movements. The Haight-Ashbury was essential to the development of the hippie movement in San Francisco. Across the Bay in Berkeley, the reclaiming of land for public use also served as a statement from the people. The most noticeable and possibly most memorable space in the East Bay was the Emeryville Mudflats. This stretch of mud and driftwood along I-580 served as a public expression of the creativity and community of those who erected the large and numerable sculptures. The haphazard art form received much praise as well as criticism throughout its existence in the 70s and 80s. The emphasis that these sculptures had on community and the construction process has roots in the hippie funk architecture movement and lives on today in many public spaces in Berkeley. These sculptures emphasized both community and the construction process and have roots in the hippie funk architecture movement that live on today in many public spaces in Berkeley.

This form serves as a great expression of the spirit behind the funk architecture that was central to the “back to the land” movement. The various settlements across California that hippies flocked to exhibited hand-made homes and living areas. The process of building was very important to those who built their homes in nature. The act of creation and ingenuity as well as the community aspect of construction made the experience unique to the funk architects. The importance of hands-on participation, community, and junk architecture in the back to land movement is expressed in the mudflat art. These sculptures were handmade and anyone was free to participate. This space provided a memorable drive for many Californians. While the sculptures were removed in the late 80s by CalTrans, the legacy lives on in an interesting way on the Berkeley marina.

The Adventure Playground is a park on the Berkeley marina, near the old site of the Emeryville Mudflats sculptures, that the children build themselves. Provided with tools, building materials, and paint, the children are encouraged to build, play, and create. This active participation in the construction of their own little world is a fairly unique experience, being one of the few parks of its kind in the United States. While there are many more rules in place in this park than there were at the mudflats, the experience is driven by the same desire to be close to one’s environment, to create a space to for independent thinking. The park’s website explains that it was inspired by a European landscape architect, Lady Marjory Allen, during WWII. While the park was modeled after Allen’s parks in Europe, the continued existence of the park today is made possible by the desire of Berkeley locals to instill the mentality of the funk architect in children today.

The aesthetic of the playground strongly mirrors the junkyard feel of the Canyon, CA hippie homes with a chaotic yet liberating feel. As a child I went to the Adventure Playground twice. Of the hundreds of playground I have had the pleasure to wander, this is the only one that I felt such a deep seated love for. I can attest that this place is magical in its own unique and visceral way.

I imagine many driving by the sculptures on the mudflats asking why someone would put their time and effort into a janky rendition of a dog that would inevitably wash away. I know exactly why, because the Adventure Playground instilled in me part of the experience that so many young people in the long 60s yearned for. While these children may not know it, they are being influenced by a complex social movement from much before their time, and this experience would not be possible without this space dedicated to exploration.