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At play with a playground Add to ...

Looking down from his perch and clutching the bright blue metal banister, Daniel Young, 27, asks if anyone wants to play tag.

Christian Giroux, 38, is too busy bending back the orange construction fence to gain access to the wonky blue ladder to answer, so the question hangs unanswered in the crisp March air.

In a few months, however, when PMA Landscape Architects finishes this suburban square - surrounded on three sides by high-rise residential towers - into the "very tightly programmed" Lee Centre Park, the co-creators of playground sculpture Reticulated Gambol will have their answer.

Will children descending from the 3,600 condo units near Bellamy Road North and Progress Avenue take to the electric blue behemoth? Will cries of "You're it!" ring through its perforated tunnels?

Of course they will, because Mr. Giroux and Mr. Young are very good at what they do. After meeting in the early 2000s, the artists created Fullerene in 2003, a giant rolling sphere crafted from aluminum struts and bicycle tires. Next came objects cobbled together from galvanized steel ductwork, others using florescent tubes and, more recently, Ikea furniture (photos at cgdy.com). Their playground piece is no different. It continues the exploration of how existing industrial pieces - in this case prefabricated playground components from Belair Recreational Products in Paris, Ont. - can be reassembled and reorganized to alter their usual configurations and confound public perception.

While most other playground equipment is playfully asymmetrical and meandering by design, Reticulated Gambol, Mr. Giroux explains, "snaps to the logic of the grid." It achieves monumentality by its height, size, monochromatic paint scheme and the repetition of form. Inspiration, they say, came from brutalist architecture and its predecessor, mid-century modernism.

"I think kids will enjoy subverting something that doesn't look quite right, that looks a little too official, too grand," says Mr. Giroux, a fine art professor at the University of Guelph. Mr. Young adds: "I hope there's something inside of people that says 'This is a little bit wacky, this is really fun to play on, this is similar to other playground systems but something's a little bit strange.' "

The strangeness took much preplanning. After PMA answered an open call by the City of Toronto, representatives from the firm were then placed on the artist selection committee. Once Mr. Giroux and Mr. Young were selected, options for their contribution were discussed; shaping the topography, street furniture and the children's play area were all up for grabs. Consultations with residents also happened about this time: "The mothers were the most vocal, because the condos aren't designed for their children," Mr. Young says. "Their children are running around and always getting in trouble so they really wanted the park to be a place for their kids to play."

When the duo settled on playground equipment, they hatched an ambitious plan for a multilevel structure with mirrors to create odd perspectives. Not only would this have disoriented the children, it would not have met with Canadian Standards Association specifications, so they decided to "radically adopt one system of playground manufacture," Mr. Giroux says.

They liked Belair's "old school" components not only because the bent tubing and curved sheet metal plates displayed "shop technique," but also because they could be assembled in an abstract way to allow little imaginations to dream big. Newer systems, Mr. Giroux laughs, "are so calculated in terms of 'Okay, we have this tippy slide and that's to develop certain cognitive skills for balance on the left side of your body.' " Reticulated Gambol, in other words, can be a pirate ship, a princess's castle or a space station.

And if the last thing on people's minds is that it's also a work of art (if anything needs fixing or repainting, an art conservator will show up alongside the parks department employee), that doesn't bother the co-creators one bit: "If people just come in and use it ... it's not important to me that it's understood that this is a work of art," Mr. Giroux says.

They do hope, however, that the piece leaves a "neuromuscular imprint" on users long after they disembark, in much the same way a roller-coaster rider or swimmer experiences phantom motion hours later. This will certainly be the case, since the design's formality dictates that one must go over humps in one direction and crawl through tubes in another; while there are choices one can make, others are forced upon the user. "The way you move through is radically different than any other piece of playground equipment," Mr. Giroux says.

While Reticulated Gambol was bolted together in December, the rest of the park - landscaping, lamp standards and water toys - won't be finished until later this spring.

After helping each other down and stabbing the construction fence back into the muddy earth, the artists turn and face their creation. "I didn't think it was going to be so big," Mr. Young says. As Mr. Giroux nods, a little girl and her mother walk by. The tiny squeal of delight and a pointing, stubby finger suggest that it's exactly the right size.

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