published in sb 4/2017
The playground concept by Openfabric architects brings three different types of play together into one ensemble: the interior is a wild natural playscape, the exterior an urban sports court, and the threshold between the two known as The Ribbon is a playful architectural element containing all the traditional playground equipment. This diversity of types of play, arranged in an open-ended playscape, creates a rich and dynamic world that offers children endless opportunities for play and for reinterpreting and reimagining the space. It provides a contrast to the many mono-functional playgrounds with standard equipment that exist everywhere today.
Grevelingenveld, known locally as Deltaplantsoen, is a neighbourhood square in Rivierenbuurt, The Hague. The design of the 8,100 m² space links carefully with the development of a new neighbourhood school which faces onto the square. The school makes daily use of the public space as its schoolyard and its green spaces as outdoor classrooms.
Urban exterior – wild natural interior
The central natural playground is a space where children are free to construct and destruct their own play spaces from natural materials and fast-growing plants such as willow and reeds. Trees were selected on the basis of their durability and climbability, while a small hollow holds rainwater when it is wet and can be crossed via stepping stones.
Bringing a natural playscape like this into the heart of the neighbourhood increases children’s daily contact with nature, an important factor for a healthy childhood and an experience that is missing in many urban surroundings. The planting selection was chosen to provide maximum visual variety throughout the year while the biodiversity of flora and fauna provides a rich context for environmental education offered by the school, and the continual growth of the plants and trees over the years provides an ever-changing landscape.
Sports facilities, traditional playgrounds and natural playgrounds are recreation typologies usually autonomous and separate from each other; “Into the Wild” brings together each of these typologies into a single coherent space. Sports fields are located in the outer portion of the site, traditional play elements are cast directly into The Ribbon (the defining features between the inner and outer portions of the site), and untamed nature exists within the ribbon, resulting in a simple design with a wide range of play scenarios.
The playground is integrated with its urban context in a number of ways: from an urban point of view, the outer zone of the playground merges with the mineral character of the city; from a recreational point of view, the playscape complements the few existing sport and recreational spaces of the neighbourhood; and from a social point of view, it engages with the adjacent school and attracts a large variety of users.
The threshold between the urban and the natural is known as The Ribbon, an undulating playscape where children can navigate between the two worlds in an engaging and inviting way. The Ribbon can be climbed over via the climbing wall, crawled through via the tunnels and slid over via the slides; the edge has a steel coping for skating and scooting. It serves as a sitting element at the edge of the sandpit or a spectator stand for those watching the sports courts and much more.
In contrast, the external space is a formal hard-surfaced square for sport and structured games. Here patterns of lines define sports courts such as football and basketball and also create an abstract pattern, a playful matrix that can set boundaries for new games.
The playground was conceived to be economically sustainable in the long term. On one hand the materials are selected to endure through time, while on the other hand maintenance and operating costs are kept to a minimum. Maintenance in traditional playgrounds can be a burden: play is an intense activity that can wear out equipment and spaces. Therefore, the designers completely avoided any external components, any separate objects (which are often the most delicate) and instead embedded all play elements within the concrete Ribbon. Slides, tunnels, a climbing wall, spy holes, a spinning wheel, sitting elements and a grand stand all become part of the continuous, solid ribbon, resulting in a decreased risk of damage and dramatically minimising maintenance costs.
In dialogue with the visitors
Understanding and addressing the social aspects of the project was a guiding principle throughout the entire process, from the design phase through to the realisation of the project. Designers and clients engaged with the community from the very beginning. Several community meetings were dedicated to the playground, where children, parents, school representatives, and play leaders took part in the process in which specific needs were identified and respected throughout the design process. The design is in fact used and appreciated by a large variety of user groups: from toddlers in the sand pit, to skaters (who have selected “Into the Wild” as one of their favourite skating locations in the country) and to seniors who can sit in the grandstands, meet at the picnic tables or enjoy the bocce field at the southwestern edge of the space.
Ecological sustainability, here, is conceived differently. While it is usually considered merely in terms of materiality and energy efficiency, the approach in “Into the Wild” focuses on educational value. Learning about nature and natural processes is critical, and so landscape architects must assist new generations in their discovery of nature, its beauty and fragility, which is the first step in developing a conscious respect for the environment.
The inclusion of the community in the process was not limited to the required standard meetings, but was a priority from the very beginning, continuing beyond the completion of the playground into the present. Such an approach has resulted in a community that now identifies with the new public space and plays an active role in its operational life (through event planning, parents’ supervision groups, and volunteer maintenance).
The inclusive negotiation process with the community has brought forth a public space where a broad spectrum of social groups and age groups are represented and recreational needs met. The result is a space not only occupied by a diverse range of users, but a space that fosters interaction between these users.