Fences of childhood: Challenging the meaning of playground boundaries in design

Alkistis Pitsikali*, Rosie Parnell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
198 Downloads (Pure)


Scholars have criticized the capacity of playgrounds to support children's participation in public life. Fences of childhood, such as walls, fences, and enclosures, dominate children's “public” spatial experiences in the global north. Challenging well-established critiques of the fenced playground as a space that segregates and controls childhood experiences, this study offers a novel and nuanced perspective, emphasizing the qualities of the playground fence that support play and playful connections, on, through, and around it. Employing an ethnographic methodology, this study includes 167h of observations in three typical urban public playgrounds in Greece and 65 semi-structured interviews with 124 participants. Drawing on recursive thematic qualitative analysis, the fence emerges as a blurred boundary, that is, an element that transgresses assumptions and questions spatial classifications and hierarchies. Rarely the subject of design discourse, these findings are particularly significant in design disciplines globally and offer new understandings on the possibilities afforded by the playground fence. Emergent themes, namely, indeterminacy, climbabilty, playability, and porosity, are proposed as principles to guide fenced playground design as part of a fundamental reconceptualization. This reconceptualization positions the fenced playground as a public space infrastructure, supporting intergenerational interaction and play as well as children's presence and play in the public realm.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)656-669
Number of pages14
JournalFrontiers of Architectural Research
Issue number3
Early online date8 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2020


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