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20.04.2020 - Ausgabe: 2/2020

"Playing in a sea of grasses"

By Henrike Scriverius (Reinders LandschaftsArchitekten bdla)

© Reinders LandschaftsArchitekten bdla

Today, Nordpark is one of the most popular green spaces in Düsseldorf. Built in 1936 for the so-called Reichsausstellung Schaffendes Volk (see info box) it survived fascism, the war and the post-war period. Today, it provides an oasis of recreational value and serves as a common meeting point for both the citizens of the northern city districts, the guests of the adjacent grounds of Messe Düsseldorf as well as the visitors of the Aquazoo/Löbbeke Museum which is well-known far beyond the city's boundaries. Since its refurbishment in 2017, the zoo has once more become the highlight of Nordpark. Long stretched water axes and symmetrical flowerbeds are evidence of the spirit of the time when the zoo was built while they are now in charming contrast to the picturesque Japanese Garden, the shady walkways and the Water Lily Garden.
 In recent decades, new thematic aspects were added, including a wide range of leisure and recreation offers as well as play facilities for small children and young people, while at the same time maintaining the overall park concept, as a result of which, especially on warm weekends, tens of thousands of visitors of all age groups are strolling through the park. 

For many years, the so-called construction playground was extremely popular among families with small children. Due to its location within sight of the Aquazoo and surrounded by extensive meadow landscapes, the oversized building blocks invited the children to playing there and stack, climb and try things out. It was a whole generation who understood the term "building playground" as a synonym for picnics with the family, carefree summer afternoons with coke and Ahoi Brause, a sherbet, and the strange smell of the colourful plastic cubes. In 2012 the play area had to be closed for safety reasons which marked the end of this era.


In 2015 the company Reinders Landscape Architects bdla were commissioned to develop a new game idea for this area which indeed was a demanding challenge. When redesigning the park, a multitude of different factors had to be taken into account such as the fact that the area was located on one of the main axes of the Nordpark, a location considered very prominent due to its visual proximity to Aquazoo and being within hearing distance of the Ballhaus and Tanzring. Its very popular predecessor created positive pressure on the planners together with the demand to create a unique and unmistakable game idea of high aesthetic quality. To achieve this goal, it was necessary to consider the very strong user pressure across all generations and age groups.

For the implementation of the project, the landscape architects found it particularly important to capture the unique atmosphere of this place. In the middle of the densely populated urban fabric, the park opens at this point to a sweeping landscape offering grand opportunities for open space planning, a landscape dominated by extensive meadows. Due to its distance to the surrounding streets, the big city noise is no more than a faint whiff and the planes taking off and landing at Düsseldorf Airport are only visible, not audible. Hence the planners found an almost poetic parallel world in the midst of silence and nature during their first site visits. 

So they took up this basic mood by integrating it into their project work. In several planning steps and in close coordination with the Municipality of Düsseldorf, their client, the basic spatial structures were worked out step by step: Instead of a centrally arranged, massive play figure, the planners decided to create several play islands of different sizes and freely arranged in the existing meadow landscape, an idea which was expressly advocated by the Monument Protection Authorities, the specialist authority accompanying the planning process. All islands were planned to have a uniform basic structural shape. Here the planners opted for an organic, ellipsoid form in line with the natural-looking surroundings. The individual play islands were to be connected to each other through paved surfaces to offer the visitor pleasant and barrier-free access. All parties involved agreed that the new facility should reflect an impression of lightness. Slim, filigree, unobtrusive forms and colours, to be inserted as naturally as possible into the extensive meadow landscapes. And finally a name had to be found that would reflect the play idea and the special mood of this place, an almost poetic parallel world in the midst of silence and nature.

The result was the idea of "playing in the sea of grasses". Inspired by Michael Ende's world-famous novel for children and young people (see info box), it was the extensive meadow landscape around the planned site which gave this new playground its name. The children should feel like Atréju on his proud horse Artax while swinging, climbing or sliding in the midst of a waving grass landscape. In cooperation with the Geeste-based company Emsland Spielgeräte it was planned to install slim, filigree play elements on the organically shaped, mostly ellipsoidal play islands. Vertical steel rods in yellow/brown/green tones should symbolise fields of grass swaying in the wind while at the same time offering a long service life. Sweeping, transparent and light. The vertical elements are complemented by wooden decks and platforms as well as rope and net structures in subtle natural colours. The individual play areas are connected by concrete paving with linear lawn joints, which on the one hand have a high proportion of greenery and on the other hand ensure that all play areas can be reached safely, comfortably and without barriers.

The greening of the grounds was carried out in close coordination with the Historic Garden Conservation authorities and in line with the existing plant stock: While the rest of Nordpark is dominated by intensively maintained garden areas, the new play area is located in the middle of an extensively managed meadow area. Planting with shrubs and/or trees was thus impossible. Some impressing trees of the existing tree population were carefully integrated into the play area and given a new look through appropriate maintenance measures. With the support of Düsseldorf's city partner Moscow, some selected solitary trees were added to several exposed sites. 

Surrounded by the existing tree population, today, a total of six play islands are situated in the midst of the extensive meadows. With play offers for the most differentiated age groups possible, they provide a highly attractive mix of experience and recreational qualities, from quiet play to extra-high sky swings. 


Crawling Island 

The 170 sqm large crawling island is primarily aimed at small children aged 0 to 3 years. In a large continuous sand play area, there are play houses with slides, a special station to sieve the sand as well as a double gate swing with infant seats. A wooden deck with optimum sun incidence serves as both a sitting and storage area for parents and children and to lie down, picnic, watch and/or wrap babies or toddlers. Here, the main focus is on role playing, experimentation and learning simple movement sequences. Even children with disabilities can reach the playhouse without barriers via a long access bridge.


Water Mud Island

A large sand and water table station is located in a circular play island, a 40 sqm large area. Three wooden platforms of different heights are connected by sieves and chutes, framed by stainless steel tubs which are flooded by a handle pump and turn a water wheel via floor drains. Sand and water can be distributed to all tables and troughs by using a swinging crane. Here the focus is on sensual play experience and the high attraction of the element water.

Integration Carousel

Here, especially children with disabilities find fun in exercising. From the adjacent park path, they can drive right up to the play equipment and test the experience of gravity and centrifugal force without any assistance.


Climbing Island

The highlight of the facility is situated in the heart of the newly designed area: a 180 sqm climbing, net and rope landscape. Four rings of different heights, slightly tilted in themselves, are connected by ropes, nets, poles and rope ladders and invite the children to climb and conquer this area while a lingering net inside the ring invites them to relax. In addition, a 2.00 m high stainless-steel slide completes this area. A large wooden platform in the transition to the meadow landscape offers various seating and storage possibilities. Due to the height of the play rings and the challenging climbing offers, this island especially attracts the 6 to 12-year-olds.

Balancing Island

This 90 sqm area requires courage and skill. A central climbing ring with an internal dwelling net invites the visitors to camp at lofty heights although at first it must be conquered headfirst over an arched bridge or over a challenging balancing course. With an entry height of 90 cm, this circular course is indeed challenging and not easy to cope with. Thus, the slacklines, dance ropes, climbing plates and pipe rods are aimed at children who are over 12 years old.

The play islands are complemented by seating groups with 4 m long picnic benches which are freely distributed in the meadow. Each bench offers space for up to 20 persons. 


Sky Swing

In the transition to the open meadow landscape the visitors will find so-called Himmelsschaukel (sky swing). With a swinging height of 4.00 m it offers an unforgettable experience especially for adults (with or without ice cream). Especially in midsummer, after a long hot working day, the visitors can swing into the sunset hand in hand or alone with themselves.

- Info box sea of grasses -

The term sea of grasses is based on the novel The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. First published in 1979 by K. Tiedemanns Verlag, the work is now one of the classics of children's and young adults' literature. The central plot takes place in Phantásia, a timelessly located parallel world, which is about to be destroyed by the so-called nothingness. Ever larger parts of the empire disappear without a trace. But then, it is the little outsider Bastian Balthasar Bux who reads a book in the attic in which the story of Phantásia is told. While reading the story, he gets lost in the plot and meets Atréju, a young Phantásian hunter who searches for the cause of nothingness on behalf of the Childlike Empress. He and Bastian become friends. While Bastian helps Atréju and assists him in saving his homeland, he even heals himself by drinking the water of life and returning to his old life full of joy and new courage.

In addition to the clever and thrilling plot, the novel is meanwhile considered an educational work due to its in-depth content. But, above all, it is Michael Ende's language which enchants the readers. Whether the Seeing Hand, the worm-like Acharai or the Southern Oracle, it is always the names that captivate the readers again and again. And when Atréju rides saddleless through the Sea of Grasses on his proud horse Artax, this idea leaves a lasting impression on the readers, as lasting that, in a memorable planning round, the Sea of Grasses was chosen as the name giver for a game idea in the middle of a rolling meadow landscape.


- Info box Nordpark Düsseldorf -

Düsseldorf's Nordpark was planned in 1936 for the German Reich Exhibition called Schaffendes Volk, a propaganda exhibition of the National Socialists, and opened in 1937. In line with the spirit of that times, the design of the park included clear main and secondary axes which connected differently designed parts of the park. In order to provide an atmospheric tree population from the very beginning, several hundred large trees from the northern cemetery and from other private and public parks were replanted here. In addition to pavilions, green spaces and fountains, also sculptures represented an important part of the exhibition area. Until today, the co-called "Rossebändiger" sculpture flanks the entrance portal on Kaiserswerther Straße. It consists of two 12.50 m high granite sculptures whose horses defied their tamers proudly and were thus defamed as "degenerated art". The artist Edwin Scharff was banned from his profession while the sculptures themselves could not be torn down due to their size. Even today they are one of the main landmarks of Nordpark. 

After being confiscated by the British Forces, the park served as a recreation area for soldiers. It was only in 1953 when parts of the park were reopened to the public. Step by step, the exhibition halls were demolished and replaced by gardening facilities although the original design of the park is still visible today.

Today Nordpark covers 36.6 ha and connects Düsseldorf's northern parts with the River Rhine. Both water features, promenades and meadows with an impressing tree population as well as geometrically planted show gardens next to gardening theme gardens and play areas characterise this urban city area. The most famous part of the garden is the "Japanese Garden at the Rhine", arranged and maintained by the Japanese community of Düsseldorf. Every four to six years, Japanese gardeners come here for the intensive care of the garden while the ongoing care and maintenance is provided by the city of Düsseldorf. However, the highlight of Nordpark is the Aquazoo/Löbbecke Museum with its butterfly house, coral reef and curly-haired tarantula. It is one of the most popular zoos in the northern Rhineland.



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