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19.06.2017 - Ausgabe: 3/2017

Exotic travel ‒ play spaces at the IGA Berlin

by Dipl.-Ing. Kristina Hack (geskes.hack Landschaftsarchitekten GmbH)


The 'Gardens of the World' leisure park will this year be playing host to the IGA ‒ the International Garden Festival. Even when the IGA is not here, the park provides a safe recreational attraction for the thousands of children and young people who are drawn to it ‒ they are the groups who make most use of these green spaces. When the aim is to create open spaces that will appeal to users, it is the needs of the younger generation that should be at the top of the agenda.


A place where imagination can bloom

The exotic 'Gardens of the World' provide the ideal picturesque background for a play landscape. A multiplicity of associations can be awakened by the various themes of domestic and more exotic gardens. Pagodas, water features and tropical vegetation spark the imagination of the children, enabling them to experience the park through play.


A common theme for the playground concept

It was back in 2013 that the landscape architects geskes.hack put together a comprehensive design in their tender for the feature located in Marzahn in Berlin that exploited its potential as a site for the IGA. A common theme was employed as the basis of the playground concept for the 250-acre site.


Conrad's Ride to the South Seas

In his 1931 book "The 35th of May, or, Conrad's Ride to the South Seas", Erich Kästner gives form to the way that children imagine the gardens of the world. Gardens for them can represent trips to exotic locations where they can experience extraordinary things. Every day in the 'Gardens of the World' is the 35th May, when anything can happen!


In Conrad, young and older visitors have a figure with whom they can identify and discover the landscape ‒ and a challenge: to imagine the fantastic South Seas. The visitor is invited at each play station to see things from Conrad's perspective thereby at the same time getting to know Kästner's fictional character. Quotations from Kästner's highly inventive story bring to life the fantastic worlds that Conrad traverses on his way to the South Seas.


From concept to reality

From the very beginning, we worked on our initial concept in close collaboration with the sculptor Gisbert Baarmann. Classic images created by German artists from Marc to Mataré provided the inspiration for the core motifs of the play landscape.

At every play station, the protagonist Conrad is represented indirectly in the person of his eccentric companion, the roller-skating horse Negro Caballo.

This acrobatic black circus horse is both a play object and leitmotif and acts as guide on a trip through the play landscape. It is by means of Negro Caballo that the various play stations are linked to provide a continuous story.


Professional wood sculptures

The wood sculptor Gisbert Baarmann was involved at an early stage so that his manual skills could be used to transform the literary source into objects with a high play value.


Working with nature

Garden design concepts are employed to grab the attention of the young park visitors. Light-hearted garden spaces are the ideal environment to encourage children to use their senses and develop their abilities. Use of the natural material wood with its haptic qualities is a natural extension of the transposition from contemplative park landscape to activity-focused play space.



Many ideas for the wooden objects for the children and young people have been drawn from the example of the climbing tree. The objects made of this natural material that have been used to convert the IGA play stations into living play spaces can be used for a wealth of activities ‒ from balancing through climbing to hide-and-seek. Our aim was to create exercise opportunities and stimulating attractions for young visitors in all age groups.



We were particularly excited by the constructive potential of wood, a material that could also at the same time provide a formal framework for a standardised stylistic idiom.

The skills required ranged from the selection of suitable trees, through woodcarving to boat building.

Structural engineering and playground safety were factors taken into account at all planning phases and the appropriate aspects were realised with the help of specialists.


Project management and planning

Our tender concept was eventually taken through all phases until a concrete proposal ready for implementation was generated. We maintained close contacts with the client, GrünBerlin GmbH and many of the other partners involved in planning aspects, such as structural support, test statistics, civil engineering, and hydraulic engineering to irrigation.



The underlying idea of creating a themed water playground for the 'Gardens of the World' grew in the course of planning into a diversified play space.

For technical and educational reasons, the various play zones were separated one from the other. Our many years of experience showed us that it would be advisable to locate the sand features some distance from the technically more complex water play equipment. It was thus proposed to divide the whole play space into sections representing various South Sea islands. Our South Seas are a labyrinth of play atolls in which activity-intense features alternate with calmer sections in the park landscape.


Colour concept

Unusual and marked colour contrasts have been used for the play spaces. Much emphasis was placed on black as the colour of Negro Caballo, of the dangerous sharks and the jungle whale. This is offset by the red of the iron equator and the 'moving walkway'.

And there are further colourful surprises awaiting visitors inside the objects. The belly of the whale turns out to be a vibrant and very diverse area.


Ants in your pants and the nature play space

Visitors to the Kienberg will encounter three oversize climbing objects. To provide a contrast with the jungle areas, we created the 'Polynesian Giant Ants' described by Kästner in his book.


'Electropolis' play space

Against the background of the Hellersdorf urban landscape rises Kästner's utopian fully machine-operated city of Electropolis, with its skyscrapers, automatic cars, artificial gardens and 'pocket telephones', providing a play landscape designed specifically for young people and older children.


Public consultation process

In several consultation sessions, we obtained the input of young people from the neighbouring 'Joker' youth club in the form of their ideas for the design of the 'Electropolis' play space.

We developed a robust, multifunctional climbing concept that will remain an attraction after the IGA has closed. A blend of sport and exercise options combined with futuristic objects with interactive potential provide appealing features for activity and relaxation for the target age group.


Water features: fountains, water forest and cloud forest

As the gardens are popular, particularly in the summer months, it seemed desirable to provide the 'Gardens of the World' with a water play space.

In view of the size of the site and the need of the vegetation for irrigation, a bore well was sunk to access natural groundwater. Working in collaboration with the water and hygiene authorities, a water supply in the necessary quality was put in place.

A complex distribution system was installed to supply the various play stations with water. We also drew up a schedule for the operation of water attractions controlled by automatic programmes.

A careful layout scheme ensures the trouble-free, time- and temperature-dependent operation of all play stations that feature water.


A major attraction

The play spaces for the IGA have been pulling in the visitors in hordes since Easter 2017. Among the diverse play attractions that can be used in all weather conditions there is something for all visitor groups. The response has been remarkable; there is no doubt that to achieve a success of this kind, a creative approach to planning such a play feature is vital.



Image: geskes.hack Landschaftsarchitekten GmbH / Studio Hanns Joosten / Ines Meier

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