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Easy as Child’s Play: Brilliantly Simple Play-Park Designs

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on 7 days ago

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With the internet sucking us up into ever deeper into sedentary confinement, ably aided  by the increasing paucity of usable open spaces we, and importantly our young ones who make up our future, are left sadly robbed of a sufficient outdoor life. We live in times when parents find it very difficult to simply ask their children to ‘go out and play!’- out where? Space is the most premium commodity in cities, not really made easily available for play. Yet, the need for open spaces is the most urgently felt out of the list of infrastructural requirements of any city today, especially in India’s densely populated cities. Urban areas actually require outdoor play facilities for their young which are least resource intensive, easy to maintain, sustainable in every sense of the term. Here’s a sampling of such simple play parks from cities all over that have design brilliance vested in them. 

Ambulance Playground, Malawi

Exploring abandoned structures and vehicles has always attracted and excited kids at play. The site of a children’s hospital in Malawi received a welcome intervention in the form of a playground designed by Luc van Hoekel and Pin van Baarsen of Netherlands based Studio Super Local supported by Peter Meijer, managing director of Sakaramenta, a local organisation. Taking the young patients of the hospital into confidence and seeing the needs through the eyes kids bored with grounding injuries helped them imagine the playset better. 

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An old Land Cruiser has been stripped and refurbished as a white ambulance fixed into the playground with a playset of climbing rack, swing, fireman’s pole and slide integrated into it. Pavements and ramps enable even wheelchair bound children to enter the ambulance, pretend to take the wheel and drive it, sit inside as they would in a clubhouse, blow a horn fixed inside and indulge in various forms of play. Hospital visits need not be boring anymore!

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Barnetraakk, Norway

Those of us who have walked to a neighbourhood school as kids know the joys of exploring a familiar track every day, playing with companions and meeting friends along the way. To attract today’s increasingly inactive kids to walk or cycle to school was the aim behind this project undertaken by the Gran Municipality in Norway in collaboration with TYIN architects and the state department for roads.

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The main units of the design are little barn-like wooden kiosks, each of them fitted with a variety of windows and seating arrangements painted in bright colours. These units, called meeting places, were placed in singles, pairs or clusters along the main school routes in Gran where students walking or cycling to and from school get a chance to linger, meet up and play a while. The best part of the project was that the idea was mooted by children of schools while participating in a series of workshops for the purpose and the units were also built in participation with the kids. Well, this project does have participation in city planning and incentivised physical exercise all rolled in one for the kids!

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Energy Carousel, Netherlands

One of the chosen, implemented winning proposals from a competition for an innovative and multi-age friendly element to complete a public square in Dordrecht announced by the Centre for Visual Arts and the Amsterdam Design Bureau Carve was the Energy Carousel. Designed by Dutch firm Ecosistema Urbano, the carousel is like a huge colourful umbrella with ropes of differing lengths hanging from its shade. The innermost low height seats are meant for the littlest kids and the taller children hang on to the higher rope seats towards the outer circles. So, while it creates a shaded spot for interactions between varied age groups, the carousel moves with the movement of the kids. The mechanical energy generated is stored as electricity in an underground battery which in turn releases it to light up the carousel as it gets dark in the evenings.

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More wonderful is the element of measuring energy generated at play, as the greater the amount of energy released by playing children in a day the brighter the lights will shine. The lights are even colour coded to indicate higher or lower levels of energy. The tensegrity structure uses very minimal materials like steel cables and a fabric roof, and also LED light fixtures to make it even less resource intensive. It is therefore positioned not just as an innovative and sustainable play tool but as a subtle way to educate the younger generation about sustainable views towards energy generation and urban design. 

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Flexible Playscapes, Haryana

Playing with building blocks or mechanix sets is an inevitable part of childhood which excites imaginative minds. Architect Romi Khosla’s design for a small playground in Ghuspethi, Haryana created a similar opportunity for kids there with an added element of physical exercise as well in the life size set up. A gravel finished square space has been fitted with a large variety of pivoted panels that resemble doors, windows, walls and balcony meshes of our everyday structures. The pivots enable the panels to be moved and placed in a variety of ways and innumerable possibilities of combinations that can define the same space in a mind-boggling range of articulations arising from the children’s minds. 

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The process of arranging engages not just the child’s limitlessly imaginative mind, but also her boundless energy to physically move the panels, jump over, swing on or pass under and around them. The play set is also an extension of the architectural design team’s own expression of their craft as spatial arrangers!

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There is an abundance of such sustainable ideas applied to public spaces and play areas out there, yet not enough has been done to fulfil the need of every child, and even every adult, citizen of our world to receive a healthy daily dose of the outdoors. 

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