I came home last Sunday evening to sounds of laughter and the smell of woodsmoke coming up from the backyard. It was one of those frigid nights we’ve been having, the kind of night when a balaclava seems to make sense for something other than a bank robbery. I pressed my nose up to the window to look outside, and it sent a chill right to the root of my spine. But then I saw it: first the flicker of the campfire, illuminating a handful of bundled revelers holding sticks with marshmallows. And then, squinting into the dim light, something even better: a slick of ice, and boys on skates.
This is a Brooklyn backyard we’re talking about here, about as small a patch of real estate as you could imagine. And yet, faced with an endless stretch of freezing temperatures, my neighbors decided to make their own fun. They flooded a patch of the concrete yard with a hose, let it freeze, and had their own ice-skating rink (barely larger than a dining table, mind you), their own winter wonderland.
You might ask what this has to do with design. It has everything to do with design. This is people altering their environment, using the tools at hand, to create joy for themselves and others. We often say: design loves constraints. And this is a brilliant design under the constraints of winter in a dense northeastern city, a way to be outside and together when the mood gravitates towards being inside in solitude. It’s a beautifully aesthetic moment too—light, movement, warmth, the sweetness of marshmallows, and the small swooping curves of skaters on their tiny rink—an oasis in what can often be a bleak time.
Make your own fun, this winter or whenever. Make your own joy.