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18.08.2019 - Ausgabe: 4/2019

Get up on the roof! Creating urban play spaces in times of redensification.


The 21st century is already the century of urbanisation. More than half of the world's population is already living in cities – in 2050 it is expected to be more than two-thirds. This inevitably leads to ever greater densification of urban living space. To be able to guarantee sufficient space for leisure, play and exercise in the future, innovative solutions are more in demand than ever.

An essential potential lies in the use of roofs as an area for physical activities. The installation of playground equipment on roofs creates buildings with a multifunctional character. Despite the increasing density of cities, new urban open spaces can be created in this way. Every roof installation requires an individual solution, depending on construction method, material and also play equipment. The usual foundation of playground equipment on the ground is often not an option for roofs.

At the beginning of such a construction project, the key question always arises as to what extent the existing construction of a roof can be interfered with. Is a direct, constructive connection with the existing roof construction possible or must we make sure that the roof cladding remains intact? The development of various roof installation methods by the Berlin Creative Center of the Berliner Seilfabrik company, consisting of architects, designers, landscape planners and engineers, makes it possible to install playground equipment without deep concrete foundations and thus regardless of whether the roof cladding must be kept intact.

One area in which this approach is becoming increasingly popular is that of urban educational buildings. Particularly in the school and preschool sector, it is important to design playgrounds in such a way that they offer an attractive range of activities. At the same time, the space required for educational institutions in constantly growing metropolises is less and less available. Therefore, the installation of playground and climbing equipment on the roof of a school can be the ideal solution to meet the trend of a school yard that encourages physical activity in times of continuing densification of cities.

An example is the Convent & Stuart Hall, a Catholic high school in the centre of the American metropolis San Francisco. Since the middle of last year, it has had a playground on the roof of the school building. 'The urban environment, in which our school is located does not offer much space for playgrounds and recreational areas. So we have decided to maximise the space and construct a playground on the roof,' says Geoff De Santis, Plant Operations Director of Convent & Stuart Hall School.

The heart of the roof playground is a climbing web from the Berlin company. The outer scaffolding of the three-dimensional climbing net consists of curved stainless steel tubes. All clamping points are fitted with a patented clamping system, which is located inside the aluminium balls. At the same time, they serve as connecting elements for the individual tubes and allow for easy maintenance.

All technical connecting elements such as eyelets, loops, thimbles and hooks are also located inside the ball and are thus completely removed from the children's play area.

'One of the challenges in San Francisco was to install the device safely on the roof without deep foundations. That's why the foundation balls of the tubular scaffolding were screwed onto steel floor plates with spacer sleeves the same thickness as the fall protection floor,' says Marius Kotte, head of the construction and development department at Berliner Seilfabrik. 'The slabs could then be anchored directly into the existing reinforced concrete floor. Since the sealing of the roof was not placed on the supporting layer, the existing drainage could still be used.'

The same procedure was used for the roof school yard of the St. Katharinenschule in Hamburg's HafenCity. The school at Sandtorpark was the first public building in the newly built HafenCity and is part of an urban, dense city district. The scarcity of land required a modern, compact and space-efficient school. As a result, a building with a hybrid character was created, which, in addition to school use, houses a day-care centre for children and a nursery with a canteen, which is used by all three establishments. In addition, 30 apartments were developed in the building.

The highlight of the school yard on the roof of the HafenCity school is also a climbing web. By offering space for many children to move around at the same time and requiring relatively little floor space, the 'Spaceball' fits seamlessly into the concept of a space-efficient school. In addition, climbing together in the net inevitably leads to interactions between the pupils.

However, it is not only in schools that roof installations of play equipment are becoming increasingly common in order to open up previously unused areas for play and exercise. A multifunctional building complex named 'Park Place' was opened in April this year in the Chinese metropolis of Wuhan, combining a shopping mall, office space and apartments in one building. There is a spacious park including various playground equipment on the roof of the five-storey building. In addition to the Berlin climbing webs called 'Cosmo' and 'Quadrifol', the operator Shui On Land opted for a snake-shaped balancing pole and a rotating play point. The decisive factor for the choice of the play equipment was in particular the possibility to install it on the roof as easily as possible.

The playground called Park`n`Play, which is located 24 metres above sea level on the roof of a multi-storey car park in Copenhagen, sets new standards in understanding the design of public spaces. The lead architect Kathrin Susanna Gimmel of JaJa Architects ApS describes the building as '(...) a hybrid structure between car park and playground. It rethinks the mono-functional car park and transforms an infrastructural necessity into a public space 24 metres above the ground.'

The absolute highlight of the roof playground is a nearly eight-metre high climbing pyramid. When the pyramid was installed, the existing roof structure was to serve as a firm anchor without affecting the properties of the roof cladding. 'By including the foundation parts of the play equipment at an early stage, it was possible to establish a constructive connection to the reinforced concrete ceiling,' says Marius Kotte. 'For this purpose, the foundation plates of the clamping points were fitted with additional reinforcement bars and cast directly into the ceiling. The sealant could subsequently be connected to the minimally protruding foundation lugs without much of an additional effort.'

Whether in the field of urban educational construction, the housing industry or on public areas – roof installations of play equipment are an innovative solution, especially in times of redensification, to create the necessary spaces for play and exercise on previously unused areas.

Image: Berliner Seilfabrik

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