Design: Swings and roundabouts

Photographer Liam Bailey has captured the unique, usually ignored world of the playground. But which is best, municipal old or trendy new?

Almost every local park has one, our housing estates are dotted with them, and no infants school would be complete without one, but the children's playground is one of those features of our built landscape so ubiquitous that it goes unnoticed - except, that is, by those for whom it was intended. Photographer Liam Bailey suddenly took note of playgrounds when he had a child of his own. Now two years on from the birth of his daughter, Bailey is immersed in playground culture, observing and capturing their fascinating and unique design features. He has now photographed playgrounds all over Britain, from Blackpool to Cleethorpes, from Kingston Upon Hull to Regent's Park. His passion has also led him abroad, from Malmo in Sweden to Mallorca. But the story starts and ends in Southwark in south London where he lives and his daughter plays.

Playground design has moved on dramatically since Bailey himself was in short trousers, spinning round on a witch's hat or hurtling down unforgiving steel slides. The new playgrounds stand out like beacons of vibrancy and vitality against their more austere predecessors. They are cool social places where kids make their own rules (to be changed at will) and create their own games. They are designed asymmetrically, like higgledy-piggledy organic discovery zones, linked by saggy wooden bridges and rope chains more reminiscent of a crossing over a croc-infested ravine in the Tropics than a pile of woodchips in Peckham. Hyperactive risk-taking is very much part of the thrill and children learn quickly to set and surpass their own limits. This is where children learn social skills and play out their fantasies - but then again, that's what playgrounds have always been for, however good or bad the design

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