Aug 01 2020, by Fleetwood Urban
Theatre of Dreams
Exclusive interview with Amalie Muff Enevoldsen from globally-acclaimed Danish play space creators, MONSTRUM.
When you think of Play and Denmark, chances are the first thing that springs to mind is the ubiquitous coloured bricks of LEGO®. But since 2003, the Brøndby-based design group, MONSTRUM, has been carving its own hugely impressive reputation, using its background in theatre set design to create whimsical, timber-based play experiences for children all over the world. We were lucky enough to catch up recently with MONSTRUM Vice Director and Architect, Amalie Muff Enevoldsen, to learn more about their remarkable story.
THE DUBAI CREEK HARBOUR - Dubai, United Arab Emirates by MONSTRUM for EMAAR Properties
COSMOS - Moscow, Russia by MONSTRUM for VDNH - Vystavka Dostizheniy Narodnogo Khozyaystva
FWD>THINKING: Thank you for speaking with us Amalie. Can you tell us a little about the history of MONSTRUM please?
AMALIE MUFF ENEVOLDSEN: MONSTRUM was founded in 2003 by Ole Barslund Nielsen and Christian Jensen, who met each other in the Danish theatre world where they created scenography (stage and set designs). The idea for the company arose when the kindergarten where Ole’s five-year-old son attended needed a new playground. Ole joined a group of parents with the task to choose the new playground equipment. He realised he could design a playground like a theatre set design that created better play possibilities than traditional playground elements. Christian then came along to help with creating the new playground, and it became such a tremendous success they decided to explore the idea further and created MONSTRUM together. Today, we are 36 designers, architects, builders and carpenters based at our workshop in Brøndby, just to the west of Copenhagen. We now export playgrounds to countries around the globe and we are very proud that the world has seen the quality of our work.
How would you describe the MONSTRUM philosophy?
Our playgrounds are always carefully designed with a strong visual expression, that aims to capture the attention of people walking by. By creating physical play features and challenges in memorable visual forms, we seek to inspire kids to play through adventurous scenes they can explore. Our playgrounds are designed and arranged like small stories that challenge children’s imaginations, not just their motor skills. Why play on a climbing frame if you can play in a space rocket, a submarine, a giant snail house, a clown head or a Trojan horse? We talk in a language the kids can understand.
SPÖÖÖKITETSPARKEN - Varberg, Sweden by MONSTRUM for Varberg City
THE LAND OF THE RIVER GIANTS - Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA by MONSTRUM for Gathering Place
Looking through your portfolio, there’s a wonderful mix of whimsical storytelling in MONSTRUM projects. How important are stories in shaping your designs?
Stories are an essential part of how we design and create our playgrounds. Remember, our background is in theatre and scenography, so we’re always looking to create a stage and a mood. We love to design great centrepieces and main elements that attract attention. But we also really care about the smaller details as they support the overall theme. They complete the story. Our skilled designers and architects are great at envisioning and capturing the essence of a story. It’s a very important part of what we do.
Why has MONSTRUM been so consistently successful over the years?
We’ve spent many years fine tuning our storytelling and creating a strong visual expression that is recognisable and always beautifully constructed. But, most importantly, we have become very good at creating playgrounds that speak to both kids and adults.
How hard is it to keep creating amazing new projects, year after year? How do you stay fresh and motivated?
We’re fortunate that we keep expanding, so we come across new and interesting projects all the time. No project is the same. We like to keep challenging ourselves to create solutions that are new and untraditional. But mostly we just really love what we do. Doing the same thing every time would be boring, we love the new adventure and possibilities in every new project.
THE CROOKED HOUSES - Copenhagen, Denmark by MONSTRUM for Brumleby
THE COLOURFUL PEACOCK & THE HONG KONG SKYLINE - Hong Kong Waterfront, Hong Kong by MONSTRUM for K11 MUSEA
What are the most important considerations when creating a new play space?
It’s so important to understand the customer’s wants and needs – that is, their true motivations – to create a unique playground that fits them best. Every project is a collaboration, so we work closely to create the perfect solution with the right story, the most fun play features and the most beautiful design.
MONSTRUM is a Danish business. But today much of your work is being created for overseas projects and clients. Are there cultural considerations that need to be taken into account? Or are children the same all over the world?
Yes, we’re now working with many different countries, cultures and clients. But because we still reach for the same goal – a great playground – we find culture differences are no issue at all. If anything, they actually contribute to new ways of thinking and developing great stories. We believe kids are fundamentally the same, so we design our playgrounds to inspire and spark the curiosity of kids across cultures. Of course, kids can definitely be influenced by their culture – for example, in the ways they access play and how they use a playground.
THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE - Copenhagen, Denmark by MONSTRUM for Copenhagen Kommune & City of Copenhagen
THE FISHING VILLAGE AND THE EIDER DUCK - Taarbæk School, Øresund, Denmark by MONSTRUM for Union of Taarbæk Urban Space
Finally, please paint us a picture of how MONSTRUM sees ‘tomorrow’. What does the future of Play look like for you?
Certainly, the focus on urban space and designing great play spaces is increasing all over the world. More and more, parks are becoming social meeting points for our cities, so we expect even more interest in creating amazing spaces that inspire both kids and adults. As for specific trends? We’ll probably start to see a lot more technology used in playground designs and also in the way play spaces are created with new techniques and materials. But here at MONSTRUM our focus will continue to be on creating inspiring playgrounds, set as scenes and built predominantly from wood.
*ALL photos on this page are credited to MONSTRUM. The hero image on this story features THE GLOBE located in Aarhus, Denmark by MONSTRUM for Aarhus City.
You can view more of MONSTRUM’s amazing projects here: https://monstrum.dk/en
THE SKY-HIGH FLIGHT - Copenhagen, Denmark by MONSTRUM for Copenhagen Airport
THE MEDIEVAL VILLAGE OF SLOTSHAVEN - Helsingborg, Sweden by MONSTRUM for Helsingborg Municipality