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20.04.2020 - Ausgabe: 2/2020

Open spaces for loud and wild games

By Steffan Robel (A24 Landschaft Landschaftsarchitektur GmbH)

© A24 Landschaft Landschaftsarchitektur GmbH

Today children play much less than in the past. Generally, it can be observed that they rather tend to guided and passive activities in protected areas. All-day care, easy access to digital devices as well as the increasing road traffic are only some of the reasons for this. Furthermore, passive and regulated activities supervised by adults as well as social performance pressure leave little time for free play. Besides some types of games work well indoors while there are others which require open spaces for loud, wild or physical games. In outdoor games, sensory experience, physical activity and social interaction are the most essential components of the game. Spending time outdoors, moving freely and being in contact with nature are important criteria for a child-friendly city (Richard-Elsner 2019). It is outside where the unregulated, creative, time-forgetting and thus self-determined play can develop optimally. 

The current urban development trend towards more quality of stay in public spaces offers great potential for child-inclusive space design. However, due to the densification of metropolitan areas and the associated over-equipping of open spaces, there are only few unspecific, near-natural areas available. Many playgrounds are very specific and leave little room for interpretation. However, children need the purpose-free game in order to acquire the world independently and to test their own bodies (Hönicke 2019). Thus, a child-friendly city generally requires both more space for children, and play space beyond specific playgrounds with fixed functions. 


Hybrid outdoor installation 

Where do children have room to play? What do free spaces have to provide to promote the autonomous play of children? How can game landscapes be designed without predefining all functions? Which strategies are available to create a child-friendly city?

However, at Waller Sand in Bremen, a hybrid beach park for games, sports and recreation has been created. It was a conscious decision in the planning process to avoid installing only specified play and sports facilities. Instead of a concept-specific playground, the entire open space was designed as a large sandbox thus serving as a beach for the urban dwellers. A flood protection measure served to create this public space for the people in the new Überseestadt and the neighbouring districts. Hence the new park facility combines the complex technical requirements of a state protection dyke with open space quality. 

When designing the beach park, special attention was paid to the synergy between leisure and landscape. Thus, Waller Sand combines play, physical activity, recreation, social contact opportunities and nature experience. Through subtle landscape architectural interventions, the natural landscape comes into focus. The water situation at the interface between the river basin and the port area is the starting point for experiencing nature. It is here, where the visitors are exposed to the elements of nature, such as water, sand, wind, dune grasses and wilderness. Here, everything can be experienced in a very natural, unprotected way. 

The reduced design and usage openness of the beach park provides room for free play. Children love beaches, even if there is no playground. At the beach they discover the qualities of the blank, wide, soft surface, which inspires them to play without having to specify anything. In contrast to usual playground equipment or hard surfaces, sand offers many design possibilities. While the individual usage specifications of football pitches, which are usually only frequented by boys, or sandboxes, which attract mostly small children, a beach offers an inclusive open space that attracts all age groups. Hence Waller Sand provides possibilities for free play, stay and recreation with and next to each other.


Flood protection measure becomes open space

In Bremen, about 86% of the urban areas are exposed to a potential flood risk. In the port, which was used purely for industrial purposes until the 1990s, the Überseestadt, one of the largest current inner-city development projects in Europe is being implemented on a land extension of the Weser river. It is on an area of 300 hectares where the new, mixed quarter is currently under construction.  It will provide accommodation for over 6,000 residents as well as 17,000 jobs. However, the Weser river is the lifeline of Bremen. The ports of the Hanseatic city are the foundation of the long trade and economic tradition and are still being considered the founders of today's identity of the city of Bremen. All around the basin, the industrial history of the city manifests itself. The tidal range of the Weser of more than four metres is the highest in the North German bay. Due to the expected effects of climate change, an adjustment of the dykes by an additional metre is deemed necessary according to the general plan for coastal protection.

However, Waller Sand is the north-western end point of this emerging area between the new quarter and the turning point of the port. In contrast to the previously merely functional rock filling, a special place has been created by a sand filling, which provides diverse offerings, such as lively meeting places, a wide beach area, but also space for quiet recreation. In addition, the new park, which connects the city with the water, has been created on the present turning basin through land reclamation. Flood protection can be guaranteed by a sheet pile wall above ground level. The sheet pile wall is integrated into a bench and is thus both a usable and a design part of the free space. On the city side, the bench, which is playable on both sides, extends along the adjacent boulevard and thus serves as the backbone of the park.        

In front of the sheet pile wall, the wide sandy area was heaped up to soften the impact of the waves. It is here where a beach park with pine trees and dune grasses has been created. Between the edge of the city and the water, the beach forms an atmospheric contrast to the industrial environment. The almost three-hectare large, flexible open area links up with the surrounding districts and is a city-wide leisure magnet. On the water side, the sandy area is closed off by a barrier-free lakeside path which allows the visitors to directly experience the Weser river and the vastness of the turning basin. A water playground and a beach volleyball court on the edge of the town round off the range of games with water and sand. Besides, the relatively restrained design invites the visitors to be spontaneous and develop self-initiative.

The urban wilderness of the south pier is the point of contrast to the dry, maritime dune landscape of the beach park. The plants from locally harvested seeds are supplemented by typical plants and wild herbs of this area. By extending the rather spontaneous vegetation on the former railway ballast through native plants, the landscape is particularly highlighted. The area around the pier tower was carefully upgraded and made accessible for people with limited mobility through the installation of a paved path. A row of trees, which takes up the planting theme of the promenade, flanks the path. A large, multifunctional seating sculpture made of recycled friction wood from former lock walls occupies the space on the pier and marks the entrance to the still used wood port. 

Overall, with Waller Sand a very special place has been created. Thus, nature and water are brought into the city in a direct and immediate way. Furthermore, the new beach park forms a contrast to the densely-built new district by providing a poetic, scenic and open backdrop. 


Undefined free spaces for the city

In order to meet the increasing demand for public leisure spaces for both children and adults, the growing, densified city must be multifunctional while at the same time providing room for undefined spaces.

Building cities in a child-friendly way provides solutions which may satisfy many needs at once. Waller Sand, for instance, shows how flood protection infrastructures meet technical requirements while at the same time serving as multi-purpose urban planning elements adapted to the diversified, contemporary urban life. Our parks and squares should function as both places of physical activity, social encounter and recreation while at the same considering ecology and climate adaptation strategies. In a time in which metropolitan areas become increasingly dense and the pressure of digitisation manifests itself in ever more diverse ways, our city parks must serve more than ever before as both meeting points, activity areas and nature experience spaces. This is how the entire city benefits from a child-inclusive urban development (Kuhnekath 2019). 

In addition, cities need functionally flexible niches and open spaces which allow individual appropriation and design. Apart from predefined play areas, flexible rooms which allow multiple uses are particularly important for children. Flexibly usable open spaces can support a city that promotes creative playing by creating relations to the surrounding natural and cultural landscape while at the same time promoting development opportunities which arise within this framework. The whole city should be a play area, as is still common practice in the countryside. Children should be enabled to play both on separate playgrounds and everywhere else.


The project was included in the nationwide funding programme as an exemplary project for combining grey with green and blue infrastructure to create new urban quality.



Anne Galmar, Anne Dorthe Vestergaard im Interview. Drei Fragen an die Architektinnen. sb 4/2019, Köln: IAKS Internationale Vereinigung Sport- und Freizeiteinrichtungen 2019           

Anne Galmar, Anne Dorthe Vestergaard in interview. Three questions to architects. sb 4/2019, Cologne: IAKS International Association for Sports and Leisure Facilities 2019

Kerstin Kuhnekath: Eine kinderfreundliche Stadt ist eine erfolgreiche Stadt. Interview mit Felicitas zu Dohna. Deutsches Architektenblatt 11/2019. Düsseldorf: Bundesarchitektenkammer 2019        

Kerstin Kuhnekath: A child-friendly city is a successful city. Interview with Felicitas zu Dohna. Deutsches Architektenblatt 11/2019 Düsseldorf: Federal Chamber of Architects 2019 

Christian Hönicke: In Berlin gibt es zu wenig Platz für Kinder. Gespräch mit Claudia Neumann in: Tagesspiegel 01.02.2019. https://www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/spielplaetze-sind-oasen-auch-fuer-omas-in-berlin-gibt-es-zu-wenig-platz-fuer-kinder/23934426.html     

Christian Hönicke: There is too little space for children in Berlin. Talk with Claudia Neumann in: Tagesspiegel 01.02.2019. https://www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/spielplaetze-sind-oasen-auch-fuer-omas-in-berlin-gibt-es-zu-wenig-platz-fuer-kinder/23934426.html

Christiane Richard-Elsner: Draußen spielen – ein unterschätzter Motor der kindlichen Entwicklung in: Analysen & Argumente Nr. 315. Sankt Augustin/Berlin: Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung 2018   

Christiane Richard-Elsner: Playing outside - an underestimated motor of child development in: Analyses & Arguments No. 315 Sankt Augustin/Berlin: Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung 2018



Title: Waller Sand Park
Programme: beach park, promenade, flood protection
Building contractor: WFB Economic Development Bremen GmbH
Size: 3 hectares
Location: Bremen
Year: 2015-2019
LP: 1-8
Construction costs: EUR 2.5 million
Partner: SWECO GmbH, company bremenports GmbH & Co KG
Funding: National urban development projects, EFRE 




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