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Boston Common, Boston, MA

The Boston Common's existing playground was sorely in need of improvements. Built in the 1970s, the wood play equipment was splintering, the sand ground surface was grubby and unhealthy, the steel perimeter fence was bent and corroding, and the concrete walls were crumbling.

The goal of the design for the new playground was to create a fun, engaging, and safe playground that respected the Boston Common's history as the oldest public park in America. Recognizing that the nearby Frog Pond had been a muddy pond until the mid-nineteenth century, the landscape architects embraced the theme of frogs and pond life to guide the playground’s design. A bronze ‘Gatekeeper’ frog, perched on an entry arch, greets visitors to the newly named TADpole Playground.



Tadpole Playground

Interior seat walls and pavement edges curve  and flow, to suggest stream and water patterns. A “river” of blue and green glass terrazzo leads toddlers from the entrance to a water play circle, where three bronze frogs, the ‘Bather’, the ‘Life Guard’, and the ‘Diver’, surround water jets spouting from the pavement.  Along their way to the water play area, children discover bronze tadpoles, lily pads, fish and ladybugs swimming in the sparkling glass pavement. 

Although the exterior concrete walls of the new TADpole Playground were poured in the same footprint as the walls of the 1970s playground, the new entrance was enlarged and relocated to directly align with the Frog Pond. A swirling path of granite cobble pavement flows from the edge of the Frog Pond under the playground arch and gate to surround a colorful 5’ diameter mosaic depicting a frog viewing his reflection in the water. At the edge of the Frog Pond two more bronze frog sculptures, the ‘Fisherman’ and the ‘Thinker’, complete the frog family, and tie the two sites together.

The donors wanted the TADpole Playground to be a destination for all children in the Greater Boston area.  To help achieve this goal, an artist worked with Dorchester schoolchildren to draw frogs that were then incorporated into bright resin panels set into the playground’s interior seat walls. 

To respect the historical integrity of the Boston Common, Boston’s Landmark’s Commission asked that muted colors be used on the vertical surfaces of the TADpole playground.  To comply, a dark green, tan and blue metal play structure was chosen to replace the wood equipment.  The fence surrounding the playground was also painted dark green to match the play equipment as well as the building and skating fence at the Frog Pond. 

To introduce an element of color and whimsy to the playground fence, brightly painted rings were inserted randomly between the pickets, a playful interpretation of the typical picket and ring fence design that encircled the Boston Common.  These little sparks of color catch passerby’s eyes, particularly when the sunlight hits the fence, enticing them to come and explore the TADpole Playground.

Clients: Highland Street Connection, Boston Parks and Recreation
Landscape Architect and Project Manager: Jane Shoplick, Copley Wolff Design Group
Artists:    David Phillips: six bronze frogs, bronze pavement inserts
Lilli Ann and Marvin Rosenberg: 5’ diameter pavement mosaic, seat wall mosaic panels 
Mark Cooper: resin panels of children’s frog drawings 
Civil Engineer: Samiotes Consultants Inc., Framingham, MA
Contractor: Metro Equipment Corporation

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