Summer ends today, which means we must all go back to our humdrum all-work autumnal lives. But not until we cover one final bastion of warm-weather play: Slides!
This week, the Slide@T3 opened in Singapore's Changi Airport, a pair of slides that twirl through its Terminal 3. For every $22 you spend at the airport, you get two tokens for the four-story slide; a shorter 1.5 story slide is free. Hundreds of people have paused long enough on their mad rush to the gate to take a moment to sit back, relax, and let gravity take control as they reach speeds up to 14 mph. The brief slip through this metal-and-glass portal keeps kids happy and is sure to prevent adults from suffering from travel-rage. (Our only question is, what happens to your carry-on luggage? Do they launch it down behind you?)
Throughout the airports, offices and malls of the world are large, open spaces perfect for slides, which can allow us to reach our destinations more quickly and deliver a brief moment of euphoria. Plus what comes down must also go up, and climbing stairs to reach the top of a slide would provide some much needed exercise in our sedentary lives. So why aren't there more slides in public spaces offering a little interaction and lot of fun? Perhaps in the U.S., we're too litigious for fun — companies and cities are likely too worried about getting sued to install such things.
But I did find some great examples of slides in public spaces throughout the rest of the world. Artist Carsten Höller designed Test Site for the Tate Modern in London, a set of five tubes that spiraled into its Turbine Hall from 2006 to 2007 (in fact, I have to think that Changi Airport's team was more than a little inspired by Holler's design — it's pretty similar).
Höller, who has installed several slides like this, calls the piece Test Site because he sees it as a prototype for a series of slides that could be built across London, or any city. Höller believes as a method of transportation, slides should be as commonplace as an elevator. "Slides deliver people quickly, safely and elegantly to their destinations, they're inexpensive to construct and energy-efficient," he said in a 2006 interview. And there's evidence that some daily sliding might improve our outlook on life, he insisted. "They're a device for experiencing an emotional state that is a unique condition somewhere between delight and madness."
That emotional state was tested by Volkswagen's Fun Theory, a campaign which staged urban interventions like a piano key staircase and a recycling bin that acted like an arcade game, placed a long slide next to a staircase in a Berlin transit station. You can visibly see the moment when commuters make a decision to eschew social mores, set aside their self-importance and take the plunge. I love the shots of the stodgy businessmen going for it — it's the equivalent of sliding down a banister between classes in high school.
And why don't we see more slides integrated into houses? They're a fast and efficient way for getting from one part of the house to another, and if it's good enough for our laundry, it's good enough for us. The Playhouse by the Indonesian architects Aboday integrates a slide into the house's two-story design. The house near Jakarta is designed for play, and a slide allows the child to take his own exciting journey from his bedroom to the kitchen every morning. Just in time for breakfast!
Urban cement slides are the perfect marriage of infrastructure and insanity: easily poured, never maintained and, should you take your kid down one with you, one step away from child abuse. These slides require gear: A sheath of cardboard slipped under your butt keeps your Levis from getting shredded. Concrete slides are popular in hilly parks like Seward Street Slides in San Francisco or as an odd sculptural folly like the cement slides in Forest River Park in Salem, Massachusetts. Why not install a slide next to a public staircase to give walkers the option? Or — as a pro-slide, anti-car statement — repurpose a freeway ramp?
These raw sliding spots are surprisingly at-your-own-risk for American public parks. But the thrill does not come without a price — people do get hurt, and nothing quite tops this fall at the Brigadoon Park slides in San Jose. I don't recommend skateboarding on slides, but is it so wrong to encounter a little danger as we get from point A to point B?
True, you may not be near any of these legendary slides today, but grab any slide and see how it works — see how you feel when you fit some sliding into your daily routine. JetBlue's Steven Slater did, and look where it got him!