Sixto Cordero

Sixto Cordero

Los Angeles, CA, US


Learning Topology

This thesis establishes a qualitative analysis of current playground design and challenges the minimal role that playgrounds play in education, spatial cognition, and the development of a child’s understanding of space. 

McDonalds’ playgrounds were introduced in the 1970s and proliferated across the nation (there are over 8,000 units). They created a model that has permeated American culture. This model is based on two paradigms: the creation of a totally risk-free world and a monolithic approach to playground design which relies on the “post and platform” construction model. Though this might be okay for a fast food pit stop, the user quickly loses interest. Historians attribute this design model to the loss of relevance of physical play. This thesis attempts to understand what playgrounds could be if the focus of the design shifts from one that prioritizes safety and ease of assembly to one that amplifies a child’s spatial experience and sensibility.

Models of learning through play are well documented and find their origin in the creation of the first kindergarten by Friedrich Froebel. However, these pedagogical tactics evolved separately from playgrounds and relied mostly on small toys that challenged children to understand and cultivate different areas of knowledge. Spatial cognition was rarely nurtured and broadly assumed to develop independently. 

This thesis argues for the relevance of spatial cognition and grounds itself in the research of Jean Piaget, the father of developmental psychology. Through his research, Piaget outlined the different stages a child goes through to develop an understanding of space. I focus on the first stage, the topological stage, where children, lacking an understanding of geometry, understand the world through relationships of containment, location, direction, etc. This innate knowledge quickly disappears as a child grows and develops an understanding of the world in terms of its geometrical parameters. 

The abstract grammatical particles that describe spatial or temporal relationships in almost every existing language are called adpositions. They describe in a topological manner the contextual relationships we have, or that we understand objects to have, with other objects. It is through the creation of spaces that expose children to a broad array of adpositional conditions that this thesis offers the developing child the possibility of learning through and about space by instrumentalizing his or her worldview.
Seeking a model that encourages participation and topological variability, this thesis proposes play spaces that inhabit a middle scale: mobile, modifiable objects that engage the child in different topological states depending on their position and orientation.

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Status: School Project
Location: Cambridge, MA, US
My Role: Thesis researcher/designer