In 2013, Cologne Zoo invested in a new playground.
Pirates of the South Seas - a theme playground
By Adler & Olesch GmbH, a landscape architect's office
The Playmobil®-FunPark is located in Zirndorf, a community in the district of Fürth, west of Nuremberg. The leisure park was founded in 1991 by the company Geobra-Brandstätter. In 2000 an additional external area of approximately 90,000 sqm was built. According to Horst Brandstätter, the person behind the Playmobil Figures, the aim of this project was to counteract children's lack of physical activity. That is why in the entire park there are neither roller coasters nor any other ride attractions.” On the contrary, the children are to become active themselves getting through the 10 different theme areas of the park inspiring them to discover their environment and recognise interrelations while at the same time developing social, mental and physical skills and competences instead of just being passively entertained.
True, the idea to build a pirate playground is neither fanciful nor innovative. Take a sailing ship, a palm tree, a steering wheel, a crocodile, a nautical chart and arrange the whole of it in an appropriate landscape space. Children will know immediately what to do. Pirates are the most popular and absolute heroes for children. Even if the playing children don't have a ship, they will as well board a harvester or a simple climbing scaffold.
The history of the Hanseatic League, the adventures of Francis Drake, Klaus Störtebecker or the discovery of the New World are terrific adventures and always exciting for kids.
So what could make more sense than setting up an adventure area with a sailing ship and pirates in the midst of a theme park? However, a leisure park needs much more than this. Its attractions must be sensational and should vary significantly from all other similar offerings. The children should come on a big adventurous journey with their parents or grandparents and forget about computer games, such as “Skull & Bones”, “Dark Waters” and “Monkey Island”, which can be played in the living room at home. That is how social competence, creativity, sense of balance and fitness should be promoted.
However, the new "Pirates of the South Seas" play area aims at counteracting this. To design a boat of approximately 15 metres height a lot of phantasy and creativity was required from those who had to design and build this area. And it is exactly at this point where the adventurous journey started.
The task is this
"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up men to gather wood, give orders and divide the workload. Tell them instead of the vast, endless see."(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
The company Adler & Olesch GmbH, a landscape architect's office from Nuremberg, was responsible for the project planning of the new play area. So, the landscape architects designed a concept which focused on themes such as a pirate sea, a pirate lagoon, a pirate island. In addition they were responsible for the landscaping as such and the water management. Regarding the concrete design a two-step tendering procedure was implemented. Finally, it was the company SIK Holz which was awarded the contract. Together with a team of designers, wood technicians and constructors, this company prepared an impressing presentation of a concept which connects all areas in a specifically playful way, including the important aspect of barrier-free playing as well as a continuous and appropriate suspense level between adventure and safety.
Already well visible from a distance, the 15-metre-high full rigged yard masts invite to visiting this exciting destination. When approaching the pirate bay from a more elevated location, one will find surprise after surprise. On an area of approximately 5,300 sqm one is faced with a dramatic sea battle. The scenery has the appearance of a genuine adventure world in the midst of the South Seas. Two opposing ships facing each other, a proud Spanish Galleon and a wreck with burst masts and ripped sails are forming the dramatic scene.
In the sand area of the pirate lagoon children are looking for treasures of the former island residents. Three big pieces of wreckage (a ship's bow, its stern and a pirate hide-out) are equipment elements for the role-playing game, physical activity and, at the same time, for sun protection. The masts and other wreckage pieces were used to build a shack for the children stranded here. To get on board the pirate ship, they have to overcome the ship's side and rail by using ropes, crossing wobbling bridges and climbing up the rungs.
To get onto the Island of the Damned they have to cross the jungle bridges. It is here where the small pirates fight with water cannons against the besieging players who are getting closer on rafts. It is on the shores where both children and adults can capture rafts to get to the ships.
Of course, also people with specific needs have been taken into account. Barrier-free accessibility and inclusion are of utmost importance when designing playgrounds. Everybody should be able to enjoy playing there. However, any wheelchair driver will need a bit of courage to pull him or herself onto the ferry up to the ship wreck. To cater for them a special guidance system and an inoffensive locking technology have been developed.
The big pirate ship was built three metres below the water level. To this end, a waterproof reinforced concrete basement was cast which at the same time bears the total weight of the ship. Into the resulting 2-metre-deep bilge, the company SIK Holz designed an authentic staging of black powder barrels, cannonballs, rope ends as well as a brig with exciting effects. Eight portholes have been installed on the sides through which the visitors can observe and enjoy the tropical underwater world. Interactive sound generators create sounds such as the sound of the sea, the commands shouted to the sailors, the creaking of the ship's side, the rattling of the anchor chain or the distant noise of board gun bullets hitting. At the same time, dim light projections on the walls provide the right mood.
In sum, based on these creative ideas the Playmobil FunPark was provided with an individual playground scene built from black locust timber. When designing the authentic play elements, it was of utmost importance to maintain the natural character of the wood. Active game offerings are provided in form of climbing, balancing, turning and swinging games which can be played on almost all devices. The pirate shack, the ships and ample seating options on ship boxes, rum barrels and herring barrels on different play levels provide the young visitors with both protected areas and places to get in contact or encourage their senses. Telescopes help to discover the distant areas of the Playmobil Funpark. In addition, it is very thrilling to ascent the seven-metre-high crow's nests and to cross the chain bridge to get from one mast to another.
The average duration of stay is relatively long. Both children and adults can spend the whole day long in the park without getting bored. There is always something new to discover. The exciting experiences the visitors can gain during their stay in the park are indescribable. All children coming here will win wonderful experiences while playing with each other in a romantic child-friendly environment.