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Installation of a barrier-free play and sport landscape

By Lothar Köppel and Barbara Köppel (Köppel Landschaftsarchitekt)

© Köppel Landschaftsarchitekt

The social learning centre of the State of Carinthia (bfz) is a facility designed to support disabled children and young people and those with special needs in the age range of 6 to 20 years. It is currently home to some 130 school-age children and young people from throughout Carinthia.

The aim is to help these attain social and professional integration. The purpose of the training they receive is to promote their autonomy and ability to live independent lives. The appropriate, barrier-free transformation of the outdoor area of such a facility helps supplement in many ways what such children and young people learn and contributes to the success of the corresponding programs.

It is not alone in Carinthia but throughout Europe that new inclusive strategies are being adopted - with regard to play, sport and therapy to ensure that these are accessible for everyone. The primary objective in this case was to put in place a holistic, inclusive concept for the design of the outdoor area of the facility using the existing natural resources. The various ideas were little by little implemented in Klagenfurt in accordance with the availability of financial means.

Arranged around a wheelchair-friendly, circular path made of colourful water-permeable surfacing and a guidance system is a diversity of barrier-free, innovative play and sports options. Among the aims was to make the whole facility also attractive to the general public. Various competitions, music and charity events were to be held here in order to promote greater understanding for and interaction with the children and young people with their disabilities, special needs and individual abilities.

At the same time, the facility also met the need for an additional publicly accessible, inclusive, barrier-free playground or open space for exercise in Klagenfurt.

On the basis of a functional concept, more than 30 innovative, barrier-free play spaces, options and ideas were created - a 'Fun-Court' through a 'play hill' to exercise elements incorporating natural play spaces were newly created - and all barrier-free. And because the facility is barrier-free, it can also be accessed by patients from the neighbouring state hospital.

Thanks to the funding given by the state, sponsors, charitable bodies and individuals, and the support provided by volunteers, it was possible to put in place, mosaic-like, the following elements in the new barrier-free playscape.

The barrier-free 'Fun-Court ' is actually a 24 m x 17 m playing field.

Its surfacing consists of all-season, wheelchair-friendly artificial turf on which there are markings for various ball games, including soccer, basketball and volleyball. The pitch is thus multifunctional as well as barrier-free and can even be used for ice-based sports in winter.

It has already served as the venue for international wheelchair boccia tournaments and is the ideal site for various parasports.

The Fun-Court is equipped with height-adjustable basketball baskets, posts for volleyball/tennis nets, and a long-jump runway with rubberised surround, wheel deflectors and safety features.

The Fun-Court is surrounded by a wall of wooden planks of different lengths - from 1 to 3 m in height, in which there are various openings to allow for flexible usage for various play and sport purposes. The basic structure of the barrier-free Fun-Court is provided by a construction made of untreated, non-uniform robinia wood palings of varying lengths and diameters. All accessways are barrier-free.

Above the moveable, barrier-free gates there is a high spectator grandstand with fall protection provided by vertical poles; to its side is a staircase with handrail under which is incorporated storage space.

The barrier-free swing forest is semi-circular in shape to promote communication between users and, like the Fun-Court, is made of robinia wood. This supports various elements for swinging, such as a 'bird's nest' and a board, tyre, and belt swing together with a hammock.

Everyone can access the swing forest using a water-permeable trail made of coloured, impact-attenuating surfacing. Up to 20 children can use the seven swing options all at once. The site has been designed with didactic intent in mind to ensure users can communicate while swinging, thus enhancing fun and value during play. 

Directly next to the swing forest is a wheelchair roundabout that can be used by wheelchair users and several children at one and the same time. 

The specially constructed table tennis table is mounted on a central column, meaning that it can be used by the wheelchair-bound from all sides.

The nearby raised planting beds that are incorporated in interestingly textured recycling materials are also barrier-free - and are wheelchair- accessible underneath. Planted here are fragrant blooms, various herbs and flowering shrubs. The centre's residents learn to assume responsibility for their plants by means of regular maintenance and the (small) successes they achieve to improve their self-confidence.

The barrier-free play hill that rises to an elevation of some 4 m is the most dominant feature. This is accessible via a naturalistic designed pathway with accompanying fragrant plant and fruit shrubs that has a maximum gradient of 6%, making it both wheelchair-accessible and also a playable space. On and around the hill are positioned various pieces of play equipment, such as balancing beams, slides and steps made of different materials, including stone, tyres and so on.  

All ingress and egress routes are barrier-free and raised 45 cm above the surrounding terrain. On the top of the hill are two wooden platforms that can be used as viewpoints and are connected by a wheelchair-accessible bridge. On its exposed northern side, the hill has been provided with a toboggan run. The existing cable transporter has been integrated into the hill.

A near level wheelchair-accessible tunnel with light and sound effects runs underneath the hill, linking its north-west side with that on the south-east. A further highlight is a 'coordination stairway' on which users can test their flexibility and dexterity and train their motor skills. 



The multifunctional character of this play facility means that it is designed to appeal to all the senses. The natural creativity of children and their inclination to self-determined use of equipment is promoted by the many play options integrated with the natural surroundings. By playing together, they learn their own limitations and also to accept certain rules.

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