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04.12.2012 - Ausgabe: 6/2012

Playing in the Historical Garden

by Dr. Peter Fibich, Freiraumkonzepte GbR (GbR Concepts for Free Space)


A playground in a historical garden can often be problematic. The desire to legally preserve the historical and horticultural value of a cultural monument frequently contradicts the current demands of usage. There is seldom a solution to satisfy both parties: The interest in the historic garden and the desire to develop an exciting place to play and meet people. However, just as a modern piece of furniture in a contemporary flat in no way impairs its landmark value, playgrounds do not have to be an eyesore in historical grounds if they are integrated wisely.

This balancing act has been successful in Leipzig where a compromise was found early on in the implementation process of the coordinated planning. The town with its Department for Urban Green Space and Water is the ordering customer in this instance and collaborated in the early stages with the landscape architects Freiraumkonzepte (Concepts of Free Space), and the Monument Conservation Authorities to develop a common solution. Of course, the fact that there had already been a playground in the Steinplatz historical monument since 1914 was advantageous. This old structure had remained a clear model until the 1970s, after which it underwent a pragmatic transformation. Historically, this playground was a simple gravel area for free play and running about, which was surrounded by trimmed hawthorn hedges, flowers and lines of trees. There weren’t any items of play equipment at that point. The City Gardens Director Carl Hampel had installed a large ornamental and recreational area with large bands of flowers next to the playground.

The compromise was reached to re-establish the original framework exactly how it was – however, this time exuding new, intensive life. Following the intensive participation of residents of the town’s contemporary district, a play area, which is organised simply and clearly, was realised. Two large, square fall-protection areas at both sides of the large area offer a wide range of combinations for play. One side is clearly intended for smaller children, while the other side is better suited to older children and teenagers. The company Piolka Holzgestaltung undertook the task of creating the compact labyrinth, dominated by a wooden “forest of posts”. All posts are embedded into the ground using steel post anchors. Red and green high-pressure laminate boards, steel elements and rope constructions in bright colours form a contrast to the prevailing oak wood.

The “labyrinth” offers older children and teenagers a range of challenging items of equipment to test their balance, climbing and dexterity. Platforms can be climbed in several ways, offering an overview of the grounds. Since autumn 2010, the bridges, climbing frames, balancing beams and climbing walls have proved extremely popular. The entry heights prevent smaller children from being able to climb into the labyrinth without the help of others. A large nest swing – also suitable for disabled persons – rounds off the local range of facilities nicely.
On the other side, there are a number of smaller-sized chutes, swings and slides available for younger children. A tube and a fish trap are popular attractions. Slides and swings come in all different sizes for various body sizes. All items of equipment are interconnected by bridge sections; a ramp also allows children with wheelchairs to gain access to the upper level.
The middle of the playground was kept clear in order to guarantee an overview and orientation for the children and parents. Free movement, which also allowed mowers to pass through without obstruction, was an important argument for this. And finally, a large sand island sits in the centre. Boulders, mud tables and low seating platforms are underneath the future foliage canopy of a plane tree.
On the explicit request of the inhabitants, a table tennis table was planned. It is situated on the edge of the play area on a granite-slab area. This area aside, the flooring used in the play area is – like the original in 1914 – made using gravel as a matter of priority. Cycle stands, comfortable benches and waste bins round it all off nicely. The priority building materials are used materials which have been retrieved from other parks in Leipzig and had been stored at the municipal building yard. The edges of the road on the Steinplatz consist of copper-slag stones, paved areas made from used small granite stones. Paved surfaces were built using old granite slabs. The gaming tables and boulders, which liven up the sand island, come from the customer’s own stock. This greatly helped to keep construction costs down and to create character, which corresponds to the historical garden from the Imperial Era.

New plantations on the formerly very sunny grounds required – unlike the monument conservation – a greater willingness for compromise. They change the historical, increasing spatial situation, but are indispensible for the use of play areas on sunny days. The notification of the new addition was attempted with the use of trees species – which are clearly distinguished by the existing trees – and the remarkably well-spaced arrangement. At the same time, the planning accommodated the other aspects of the monument conservation. The use of trimmed hedges, which was scarcely possible in another era because of the high maintenance costs, was one of these points; also the detailed explanation of the history behind the historical monument on a sophisticatedly-designed information board. So it isn’t just children who will have the time of their life at the Steinplatz, but adults too. They can educate themselves or simply just relax – whether it be in a new playground or in a neighbouring recreation area, which underwent restoration at the same time.

Most important, however, is the tremendous popularity which the Steinplatz has enjoyed since its completion: Each day countless children and adults visit, play and relax in the historical garden.

Steinstrasse play area, Leipzig (southern suburb)
Builders: City of Leipzig, Department for Urban Green Space and Water
Planning: Freiraumkonzepte GbR (GbR Concepts for Free Space), landscape architects Susan Richter and Peter Fibich, Bad Lausick, www.freiraumkonzepte-glasten.de
Playground equipment: Piolka Holzgestaltung, Zehlendorf
Completed: 2010
Size: 8.900 m² (whole square)
Construction cost (gross): 320,000 EUR

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