Changing lifestyles and working environments make it that children spend increasingly more time at school. Accordingly, the school building and the relevant open space are not only learning but also important living spaces...
New approaches in the design and use of exercise-friendly schoolyards
BSW is the leading manufacturer of sports and play surfaces for indoor and outdoor use. In cooperation with well-known civil engineering and landscape architects, the company has equipped imaginative and innovative facilities with its floorings. Based on this, in an interview with Sport + Leisure Facilities, marketing manager Albrecht Rieger makes a case for new approaches in the design and use of school yards, playgrounds and sports facilities.
S+L: Mr Rieger, in your opinion, most school playgrounds are not attractive. Why do you take this view?
Albrecht Rieger: Initially, attractiveness means power of attraction and I do not consider an empty, sad facility to have power of attraction. In my opinion, asphalt, concrete and paving stones are totally out of place in school playgrounds as they bring to mind the architecture of city suburbs which become social hotspots.
S+L: How do you believe that the attraction which you are calling should be created?
A.R.: Through readiness to renew and improve. The composer John Cage once said: "I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I am frightened of old ones." When I look at some leisure-time facilities or school yards I often really do feel frightened. Fences, rules and regulations, floodlights, no or only old equipment and scruffy asphalt areas bring to mind a kind of prison camp but not really places where people like to spend their time.
S+L: But how can this readiness be converted into action?
A.R.: There are many positive examples among the masses, but still not enough. What characterises the kind of playground I am talking about? A synthesis of different focus uses, high-quality design – aesthetic landscape architectural components and the architecture of urban space – a focus on certain defined age groups and on educational goals and leisure-time benefits for children and youngsters. This has all been known for several years, but is not implemented everywhere.
S+L: What do you mean with a synthesis of different focus uses?
A.R.: There are many ways to make use of a school playground. For this reason, planners and operators should consciously decide on the focus points most important to them. The children themselves should also be asked. Is the main objective sport and play activities, should it be a meeting point and social area for the schoolchildren, is it intended for teaching or is it just a place which nobody can really make special use of? What a school playground shouldn't be is a car park or the size of an ice-cream kiosk.
S+L: What do you suggest to change this?
A.R.: In many cases school playgrounds are built in the same way. Often, the playground is simply an asphalt area with a couple of playing field markings, now and again a basketball hoop or a table tennis table. In my opinion, asphalt and paving stones should be reserved for access ways for delivery men and ambulances. These materials were originally used where a solid substrate was needed. Today, there are many kinds of solid substrate with a variety of function which can provide added value to the playground: Design and appearance, floor games, sports areas, fall protection, seating accommodation and noise damping. BSW has developed many flooring systems which can be installed without problem on top of old substrates which saves having to remove them – price advantages included. There are also playgrounds designed so that our flooring systems themselves are an attraction for the children. If the possibility of a good flooring system is incorporated into a general architectural-educational concept, a playground can be created which lives up to its name, at an acceptable cost and which will become a valuable meeting and exercise area even outside of school hours.
S+L: You refer to including components from landscape architecture and public places. What do you mean exactly by this?
A.R.: New playground design should not be the only new thing finding its way into playgrounds. Teenagers have special needs which differentiate them not only from younger children, but also from adults. Sports areas alone are not enough. Meeting places to chill out should be provided just as much as opportunities for learning outside the classroom or for improvised exercise and skill-based games. Meeting places which are similar to public places promote practice of adult behaviour patterns.
S+L: How do you introduce these ideas into the design of your products?
A.R.: A brightly coloured floor would definitely be unwelcome here. Colours can be adjusted, however, to suit the target age group without foregoing the safety aspect. The youngsters do not even need to be aware of it. We can install solid floors which are impact absorbent and quiet but which are difficult to tell apart from asphalt in appearance; or which blend inconspicuously into a green environment similar to a park. Our flooring systems for school playgrounds are characterised by three aspects: Cost-saving installation, orientation on certain age-groups and the variety of possible uses. A pure playground surface is only one focus application among many. We are currently developing a new generation of this kind of flooring and will show various aspects of these at the Galabau trade fair this autumn.
Interview by Tobias Thierjung