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Imagination Playground at South Street Seaport

David Rockwell's innovative play spot opens to NYC families.

By Tom Roston
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Just a BlackBerry's throw from Wall Street, architect and designer David Rockwell has designed a space where the 12-and-under set can be the masters of their own universe. The man known for creating immersive environments for adults (L.A.'s Kodak Theatre, the Nobu restaurants) is debuting his first complex for kids—the $7.4 million Imagination Playground at South Street Seaport.

The Tribeca dad of two (son Sam is 10 and daughter Lola, 8) helped design the temporary Ground Zero viewing platform in 2002, and was eager to contribute more to downtown's future. He's tapped the European tradition of adventure playgrounds, in which creative fun is prioritized over the exercise of gross-motor skills. "Play is how we explore the world," he says. "And so many great playground ideas have been edited out by overplanning."

The space's perimeter is a wooden runway in the shape of an infinity symbol (or, according to Lola, a peanut). The area within is dominated by loose parts—mostly found objects, such as wheelbarrows, buckets, rope and large white sheets—and a truckload of foamy blue shapes manufactured by Rockwell's design team. There is also an abundance of sand and water.

Bring all that under the direction of a six-year-old, and Imagination Playground promises to be an adventure of Rube Goldberg proportions. Although there will always be Parks Department--trained "play associates" on hand to oversee the loose parts, things are bound to get messy—which is a good thing, according to Rockwell: "There's that control-freak moment, when you think, Oh, god—the kid is going to get his socks wet. But then you let go."

Open daily 9am-7pm. Burling Slip, John St between Front and South Sts (imaginationplayground.org).

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