It’s afternoon in Valencia. It was very hot and now it is raining. But rain or shine, the 67-metre-long, nine-metre-tall statue of Gulliver that sits in the former Turia riverbed is teeming with children, some stepping on its head and others hurtling down the gigantic waterslides that have been fashioned into the folds of his clothes – much like the tiny inhabitants of the Land of Lilliput did in Jonathan Swift’s satirical novel, Gulliver’s Travels, after tying the “giant” Gulliver to the ground.
“We’ve been to a lot of places, but we’ve never seen anything like this,” says Miriam Grailhe, a French tourist whose children are between 2 and 14 years old. “It’s very original.”
Gulliver of Valencia has just been chosen by the Boston Design Museum as one of the most extraordinary playgrounds on the planet. Moreover, it has been a guaranteed hit with children since its inception 25 years ago.
The sculpted play area was designed by architect Rafael Rivera who worked with Manolo Martín, a specialist in “Fallas” folk art, and Sento Llobel, an artist from the so-called New School of Valencia whose illustrations have were included in the first exhibition of comics at the Institute of Modern Art in Valencia (IVAM).
“Our idea was to create a fun place that would bring different play elements together instead of scattering them,” says Rivera, who was commissioned by the city to create an innovative play area.
“When they gave me the project, they had already tried to do something more realistic,” recalls Llobel. “But just having a man lying down felt a bit eerie, like someone had died. He needed a touch of fantasy – a more man-made look.
Llobel bought all the illustrated copies of Gulliver’s Travels and movies he could get his hands on. “In the end, I was like, ‘This is of no use to me. I’m going to have to make something up. And after researching the fashions of the day, that’s what I have done.
Childproof and sustainable, Gulliver de Llobel has proven to be “a space that offers children a unique experience”, according to Elisabet Quintana, landscape architect and member of the editorial team of dePaisea – a publication which assesses the areas games for children. “The approach to this kind of thing is generally standardized with a few exceptions. The same is implemented in nature parks and plazas and near the beach,” she says.
Quintana draws attention to the educational element of Gulliver which encompasses not only the allusion to Swift’s novel, written in 1726, but also the inspiration drawn from the monuments of the Fallas – the huge papier-mâché effigies which are set on fire each year. in Valencia at the end of the city’s festivities.
Of course, such an undertaking turned out to be more expensive than a standard children’s park, and local authorities were reluctant to spend the 1.2 million euros needed in the late 1980s after the City of Arts and Sciences further down the bed of the Turia river had put them over budget by 1 billion euros. As it happens, construction of the statue only began when the Valencian authorities provided the money in response to offers from Seville (for the 1992 Expo) and Barcelona (for the Olympics) for the figure. .
But while it costs more to build than the average children’s park, entry is free, which is one of the keys to its success. That means kids from all walks of life come together to play on it. “It has the value of any public space,” says Rivera. “It’s one of those places where the city breathes and weaves people together.”
English version by Heather Galloway.
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