Nestled in an airy office building on one of the busiest streets in New York City's downtown SoHo neighborhood is a cathedral of adult play. I don't mean the Fifty Shades kind — you won't find floggers or cuffs here — but a sophisticated version of a pure, unadulterated experience of joy most of us experienced in childhood, one that enkindles a pure, dizzying and gloriously uncomplicated sense of euphoria.
I'm talking about an adult ball pit.
The brainchild of Pearlfisher, a creative design and branding agency, the ball pit is an art installation known as Jump In! and it's open until Sept. 21. On Thursday night, as I stepped out of the building's tiny elevator and into Pearlfisher's well-lit office, I was face to face with the orb-filled paradise. Tucked away in the main room's southeast corner, the massive, plastic-walled enclosure — filled with 81,000 alabaster plastic balls — is as delightful as you might expect.
We weren't playing like kids do. We were simply playing for the hell of it.
I was there for Pearlfisher's housewarming party — the company moved to SoHo about six months ago — which also doubled as the New York opening. (Its first home was in the United Kingdom this past winter.) The impetus behind the idea, according to Pearlfisher, is to promote "the transformative power of play," a concept the agency believes is valuable for everyone, not just children.
After experiencing it firsthand, I'd agree. Romping in the ball pit is, to be blunt, fucking great. It's a wildly enjoyable visit to the land of nostalgia — real, true, unadulterated nostalgia, not the cheap kind peddled by the Internet — but with a lovely, grown-up twist. The people with whom I flopped around like a discombobulated manatee were equally as captivated.
We weren't playing like kids do. We weren't trying to socialize ourselves, or learn how to relate to one another in acceptable ways. We were simply playing for the hell of it. (The fruity cocktails didn't hurt, either.)
Tam Le, a strategist for Pearlfisher, said the ball pit is meant to invoke the jubilance we experienced when we played as kids.
"It brings it back, but in a different way for adults," she said as we sat on Pearlfisher's fancy rooftop terrace, where women in high heels and men in suit jackets milled around sipping drinks. (It may have been a party for a ball pit, but it was still SoHo, after all.)
As Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a psychologist and the director of the Temple University Infant and Child Laboratory, told Mic after the opening of Pearlfisher's U.K. ball pit, play is "meaningful, in a funny kind of whimsical way."
Even the UPS deliveryman got in on the fun. "He said, 'I won't give you your packages unless you let me in,'" Le said with a laugh.
The original idea for the ball bit, she said, came from Jack Heart, Pearlfisher's senior creative strategist. It started out as a replacement for a Christmas card — the idea was to invite clients to the office to partake, instead of sending them a boring card — but the company decided to open it up to the public after the positive response.
The ball pit is an operation in and of itself. The company hired two "lifeguards" to make sure things don't get out of hand, and even the employees are getting in on it. When I asked one woman how she expected to get any work done with a ball pit next to her desk — not to mention a giant throng of people cycling in and out for the next month — she smirked and shrugged her shoulders.
But back to the ball pit experience. The most surprising aspect of the ball pit is its distinct unfriendliness to movement. Making my way through the crush was harder than I anticipated: I continuously found myself drowning in balls, struggling against the wall of white that, no matter how hard I tried, wouldn't clear out of my way. It was like being in a giant, oddly corporeal bubble bath.
It was like being in a giant, oddly corporeal bubble bath.
My hair too, found a foe in the ball pit's propensity to produce static electricity, as did my phone, which was almost devoured by the plastic sea a few times. Most revelers only stayed in for five or 10 minutes, but I couldn't get enough — I was revisiting my youth, little moldable ball by little moldable ball.
In the end, it was a highly enjoyable, if somewhat ridiculous, way to spend a Thursday night.