Washington Avenue at
East 182nd Street &
Fordham Road

Bill & Mary Buchen
Sound Playground, 1992
bronze, steel and concrete approximately 20' x 150'
New York City Board of Education Percent for Art Program

Sound, as a sensory experience to be explored and as a property for analytic investigation, provides the basis for an interactive playground produced by Bill and Mary Buchen for the children of P.S. 23 in the South Bronx. Located on a hillside overlooking the neighborhood rooftops, Sound Playground is designed for use during recess. Bronze table/sculptures, based on Chinese and Burmese frog drums, and stools modeled on a North African Islamic drum, provide an instrumental ensemble as well as seating. Nearby is a sculpted concrete bench embedded with pipes of various lengths which tap into a hollow space within the structure, allowing children to whisper messages to each other. Parabolic Bench allows students to explore sounds bouncing back and forth between two large metal disks. Echo Chamber takes advantage of the architecture of the site, utilizing a forty-foot wide underground tank that collects excess rainwater. The tank serves as a cavernous sound-board. Big Eyes/Big Ears gives children a giant's perspective through a periscope aimed at the playground. In each part of the installation, sound is activated by the child and is explored physically.

An awareness of the cultural content of sound led the Buchens to suggest changing the school's carillon (which played Westminster chimes every hour) to sounds more relevant to the students. The carillon now offers bells based on a five-tone scale which can be easily programmed. These "sound marks" of the community are determined by the students and teachers, and can be changed as often as desired.

Every inch of the playground has received attention, including the concrete pavers which have been stamped with toy truck tracks imparting a fern-like design. The sound of wind bells defines the perimeters of the playground as it camouflages the ambient sounds of traffic and sirens. The materials throughout have been selected to withstand years of rough play as well as summer heat and frigid winter winds.

(Please contact individual schools before visiting)

[More about Bill and Mary Buchen]
[More about the NYC Board of Education]
[Visit the Percent for Art Program website]