At once it’s an opportunity to create a fun place to help families to move forward and create new fun in an historically important destination for the city. And at the other side, there’s the reason why people like us are traveling to Joplin from all over the country to help out. And that reason, and the stories and memories of the people… are beyond words. They are beyond the tears and looks of hope that I saw so much during the construction of the playground.
After throwing myself into the history of the city and the details of May 22, 2011, I settled on the idea that children should be able to visit the playground and never have to know that it’s a memorial. And then I set out to figure out how I could make that happen. I had only two days to come up with a plan so Mark and I could start to talk about the practicality of construction, materials, supplies, and schedule. And the building schedule was just 5 days. So the design for this historic city park had to executable in less than a week.
We were building the structure from wood, symbolic of the city after the tornado. Thinking of how the trees have transformed from what they once were, coming together in a new way, to meet a new goal.
Thinking about the date, and its significance, I wanted to incorporate it somehow, but keep it disguised from being obvious to children. I looked up, and then down. I cut out little numbers in paper and cardboard, and sculpted the playground from the forms of the date, in plan. The date can be seen from the sky, sort of a shout to the sky that took so much from Joplin and Cunningham Park on that date, letting it know that the people of Joplin aren’t hiding from the tragedy.
The playground is a place of activity, and as a memorial it needed a companion place of reflection. With the unprotected sight lines to the blown-out hospital and the barren park below, the place of play also needed a sense of safeness, a shelter from the reminders of the tornado. I wanted this memorial to be open, welcoming, reflective. To me, a memorial is both a reflection of what has happened and an inspiration for the future.
Stacking simple 6x6s on an end-pivot-point, in the gestural act of open praying fingers from two sets of two hands, gives the playground a sense of place, shelters the eye from the destruction beyond the playground, yet creates a reflective memorial that is not obvious to the kids who would run through the opening to the playground.
Not only are the memorial walls in the shape of praying hands, but we laid out the overall form so that it was in the shape of arms out wide in the act of offering a hug, and embrace of shelter, of warmth and love to the families and the city that has lost so much. And these physical hugs built from simple timbers are covered in the messages from the volunteers who traveled from around the country to help rebuild just a small part of Joplin.
We set out to help create a special place of fun and reflection for Cunningham Park, and as we were getting on the plane to come home, we hoped that we can travel back to do more. Thank you, Joplin.