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16.06.2020 - Ausgabe: 3/2020

Design and construction of play and leisure equipment for the NOVA® shopping centre

© Proludic GmbH

In recent decades, shopping centres have become a significant consumer attraction in Germany. Their advantage for customers is that they offer a wide range of different retail outlets under one roof. But retail trade is a sector that is particularly sensitive to changes in preferences, and so centres need to continually adjust what they have to offer to ensure this conforms to the purchasing behaviour of the clientèle. So, with an eye to the future, they need to provide attractive offers and experiences to ensure potential buyers will keep coming. The recent boom in e-commerce and digital markets means that customers are increasingly attracted to online shopping - and in this context, there is no need for them to leave their own four walls to purchase clothing, shoes and whatever they might want. With their tablets and smartphones, they can readily transfer items - particularly those of the non-food segment - to a virtual basket with one click while sitting on their front room sofa without having the spend the time (or incur the expense) of travelling to a physical shop. 

So how can shopping centre operators continue to appeal to consumers and counteract this trend? And how do play and exercise areas play a role in this?

Many shopping centres have long recognised the necessity of increasing customer loyalty by offering services that go beyond that of the retail experience, combating the changes in customer behaviour by changing themselves. In the past, such centres were in essence merely extended retail stores, but now we see appropriately designed 'experience' shopping centres emerging. With the help of additional attractions, operators are enticing customers back into their shopping centres and also ensuring that they spend more time there. The idea is to transform these into facilities that will draw in public by also offering opportunities for family fun, events and leisure activities. In addition to seasonal features such as ice rinks, there are climbing landscapes and cinemas, and also exciting play areas. And the sustained enhancement of the visitor experience this brings with it also benefits the associated retail traders. 

How exactly is this achieved? A look at the NOVA shopping and adventure centre provides answers.

This is located in Günthersdorf, a district of the town of Leuna that is situated on the A9 motorway midway between Leipzig and Halle in eastern Germany. It offers retail space of 76,000 m², accommodates 160 outlets and has more than 7000 car parking spaces, making it one of the largest shopping centres of the region. Thanks to a new future-orientated strategy, NOVA is undergoing its largest reconstruction project since 2006. Although NOVA is already successful, it is being upgraded to include numerous entertainment and leisure attractions.  The approach it is taking is intended to convert it into a complex destination offering a pleasurable experience on three levels - shopping, eating and entertainment/leisure. A comprehensive renovation concept was initiated in 2019 that took into account the external areas, façades and indoor zone. At the core of this are the three highlights: the retail experience, culinary enjoyment and fun for all the family. Existing and new features will be linked, ensuring ideal orientation and improved shopping experience. 

The fun and entertainment features will include a cinema and climbing world, while the playroom for children is being updated. In consultation with play equipment manufacturer Proludic during the planning phase, it was decided that play areas should not be simply sited in isolation out of doors. Similarly, that seating islands were to be incorporated in the indoor zones; play areas were also to enhance the lanes between the shops, inviting visitors to stay and play.

In December 2019, as the first of the quick win measures, eight kids' play zones were installed indoors. Their appearance conforms to that of the corporate design book and stylistic idiom of the overall concept of the centre management concern, ECE. The attractions were realised in cooperation with the play and leisure equipment manufacturers Proludic and Wiegand based in Rasdorf. 

The eight play elements can be found on the ground floor of the centre, mainly where the lanes cross and near the entrances to the escalators. 

The main highlight is a giant slide at one of the lane intersections that is accessed from the first-floor gallery. Other equipment offering different play options has been selected to fit in with the chosen 'City and Transport' theme. They flank the space around the giant slide and are also present in other zones. At the wish of the operator, fall-attenuating surfacing in a large oval has been provided under the giant slide and in two areas dedicated to the use of young children near the escalator. Because of the floor tiling design requirements, no fall-attenuating surfacing has been supplied for the other play zones. As the play equipment had to be positioned on the centre's existing floor tiling, only minimal installation depth was available.

The operator selected a 26-metre giant indoor slide made by Wiegand as the main feature. As it has two sites of access, users can choose the slide distance they want to travel. Special mats are provided on which to slide, generating speed and additional fun. Access to the shorter route is provided from the first floor of the centre. 

A stairway leads up into a slide tower to give access to the longer route. There is a traffic light system that regulates who can slide and when. The two routes lead down to the large, oval-shaped colour-coordinated EPDM surfacing on the ground floor. 

We at Proludic were commissioned to design and construct other play equipment and to design the EPDM surfacing. The coloured EPDM surfacing not only complies with the overall design language of the centre, but it also conforms to all safety requirements and provides an optical enhancement of the play experience. 

Also located within the large oval is a play double-decker bus that can be climbed to access a platform, a play train with several freight wagons and several play boards around the slide. A multigenerational meeting place has thus been created in a very limited space. There are seating cubes and benches where visitors can rest, and parents can sit to supervise their children.

At the adjacent intersection of two lanes, young children have the opportunity to enjoy a 'metropolis rocket' next to which is a rocker helicopter. We have also supplied these two pieces of equipment and individually designed fall-attenuating surfacing is provided under them. Those who prefer to keep their feet on the ground can jump into one of the play vehicles also there.

There are small play areas distributed in other parts of the lanes which are also supplied with seating opportunities. Because of the narrowness of the lanes between shops, no fall-attenuating surfacing has been installed for these. With this in view, only play equipment was selected from the Proludic range that has no critical fall heights. Here children can take the wheel on a play ship or indulge in a game of hide-and-seek in a playhouse. Installed as required have been two rocker pick-up lorries but for safety's sake, these are without the springs. This equipment thus no longer makes the movements these would cause, so that positioning on flooring without a cushioning effect was possible. We were thus able to meet the requirements of the centre management - provide the desired equipment while dispensing with the need for fall-attenuating surfacing. 

The equipment was actually installed in place without disrupting the flow of visitors to the centre. Pre-assembly was undertaken in the service rooms of the centre away from the public so that the complete items could be taken directly to the site for installation.

All the related work was completed two weeks prior to the opening date. Final changes and additions were made in close consultation with the centre management. In addition to meeting essential safety requirements, every shopping centre needs to make sure it can satisfy its customers.

On 14 December 2019, during the on-going Christmas trade, the moment had finally come. Peter Lehnhardt, NOVA Centre Manager, formally opened the play areas for use in the name of the operator. A long queue to use the slide very soon developed. And there was congestion around the other Proludic play equipment. The red double-decker bus and play train with its wagons were full in no time. Peter Lehnhardt was very happy with the way that the centre visitors reacted to the new play opportunities. "It has all been excellently realised and represents a major attraction for our visitors. The giant slide and play landscapes will doubtless cause them to return again and again - the eager children will make sure of that," he added with a smile.

The owners of the resident outlets were just as pleased with the outcome. The operator of a crepe stand sited opposite a pharmacy chain store said: "These pieces of play equipment have been positioned near the escalator for two weeks now. I am amazed at just how quickly the customers have come to appreciate them. Previously everyone just rushed past without a glance. Now they stop to let their children play, take a look around and pop into the gift shop or pharmacy to make impulse purchases while their kids are busy. And they buy my crepes," he concluded with a grin. Many of the retailers see a sustained positive effect on what has been undertaken in the NOVA. And finally, a child was heard to say to his parents: "When are we going back to NOVA with the slide and those great places to play?"

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