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17.08.2020 - Ausgabe: 4/2020

The city as a playground

By Steffan Robel (A24 Landschaft Landschaftsarchitektur GmbH)

© A24 Landschaft Landschaftsarchitektur GmbH

Physical activity promotes health, increases social participation and thus reduces social inequality. Currently our leisure time behaviour is changing, the fact of which bears the chance of a healthier urban population that engages in more physical activity. People like to be active outside by doing yoga in the park meadow or balancing on slacklines between trees. The urbanisation and individualisation of society is reflected in the increasingly experience-oriented, spontaneous leisure behaviour. 

But despite these observable, low-threshold sports trends, the physical inactivity of people living in Germany continues to rise. The everyday life of the 21st century takes place in offices and cars, and the increasing use of digital media among young people also has a negative effect on their physical activity behaviour. Many people are not aware of the importance of exercise for their health. The World Health Organization cites the lack of leisure and recreational facilities as one of the main reasons for people's physical inactivity. But how do you get people to go out and do sports? What does an attractive open space have to provide? And what kind of approach would integrate both games and sports into everyday life? 

Although up to two thirds of sports activities take place in public spaces - and not in sports facilities - there is no consistent integration of physical activity in urban space concepts. Independent and non-competitive forms of exercise as well as non-regulated types of physical activities are becoming increasingly popular and should be stimulated by the design of public spaces. In short: If people do not find their way out to sports and exercise offers, these offers must find their way to the people. The offer of integrated sports and exercise offerings in our everyday lives must thus be improved. However, the example of Seepark Eutin shows how to attract the different age groups and how to create suggestions for exercise offerings based on strategically integrated and diverse offer structures for public spaces.


New tourist infrastructures 

The multifaceted play and sports band in Seepark Eutin is part of a larger strategy which is focused on making sustainable tourism infrastructures in the city of Eutin more attractive. In the past, Eutin has neither paid much attention to public spaces, nor has the beautiful landscape been used in a beneficial way. Thus the aim of the open space development was to bring the town to the water. Despite its location between two lakes in the midst of the Nature Park of Holstein Switzerland, the open spaces along the lakeshore have so far offered very little design and quality of stay. The new play and sports area of the "lakeside playground", however, is focused on issues like water and forest and characterised by its natural surroundings. The relationship to water is made tangible by the new landscape design which provides a varied and challenging leisure world for families, children and young people and stimulates all their senses. When designing the lake playground, particular attention was paid to the synergy between leisure and landscape on the one hand, and the combination of physical activity and social contact opportunities on the other hand.

Eutin thus met the increased design requirements for inner urban and living space of its population. Before redesigning this area, the connection to water was hardly noticeable, there were no connections between the paths and, above all, no sports and leisure facilities for families, children and young people. However, when opening up the town towards the lake by making the water locations accessible and tangible, new offers for activity and recreation were created, which turned out to be a major concern of the citizens as the dialogue with the residents showed. The basis for the new open space design was the Integrated Urban Development Concept, which was adopted as an informal plan in 2012 to ensure the future-proof and sustainable development of the entire city. In the context of the State Garden Show Eutin 2016, the landscape architect office A24 Landschaft designed the relevant concept. The play areas were especially designed for the Seepark Eutin according to the results of a youth workshop.


A combination of physical activity and relaxation

The leisure park at the lake forms the opposite pole to the historic Eutin castle garden and thus helps to relieve the heritage-protected facility from its original utilisation pressure. The attraction in the northern area of the lake park is the lake playground, a varied, novel play and sports world for children and young people which provides, among other things, net traps, a wobbling forest and tree houses for crawling and climbing. Due to the position of the band of forest gardens directly on the edge of the development towards the city, the lake park gets the character of a city park. Under old trees the visitors will find boules, table tennis, a playable ship, large swings, fitness equipment. In sum, leisure activity offers for all generations. Both sports areas for beach volleyball and streetball can also be found here. The complex range of exercise offerings consisting of a toddlers' playgrounds, sports and leisure facilities for young people with meeting point quality, provides enough scope for action and motivates people to stay and play together. Through the expansion of activity offers which motivate people to become physically active outdoors, barriers concerning age, gender, mobility and cultural backgrounds are reduced considerably.

The game topics related to lake and forest are taken up by the site-specific characteristics. The concrete waves, the wobbling forest whose moving poles look like trees on a marshy ground, the weir-like net tunnel and the playable ship reflect classical, vividly presented themes regarding these topics and thus integrate the natural environment into the game elements. The individual design creates identity. Loungers made of net material which are situated under trees invite the visitors to have a rest and daydream. The repeatedly used wood and concrete materials form a creative framework that makes the park perceivable as a whole. The choice of colours and materials convey a balanced mixture of context and complementation. In addition, the new leisure landscape provides opportunities for many different physical activities and for privacy in the midst of a public space, because communication also leads to physical activity. Throughout the entire park there are rest areas, seating, picnic and barbecue facilities as well as a sandy beach with a sunbathing lawn for quieter activities, such as playing chess.


Integration into the public space

The Großer Eutiner See (original name of the lake in Holstein Switzerland) was brought closer to the visitors through five landing stages, all of which reach out onto the water at different points. New path connections between the new play and exercise areas and the lake itself bring the park back to the water. The play opportunities are provided on the new park axes right on the water's edge. They serve as both path and visual axes, such as the wooden walkways which lead into the lake. At their end, the bridges widen out into seating platforms thus creating new attractive recreational possibilities right next to the water. However, the water has become an integrated part of the play and sports grounds with this new view of the lake, the city bay and the castle.

The structure of the activities arranged both in the middle and at the edge of the lake park also functions as a connecting element. Their distribution over the area, especially the strategic positions beside the road or along highly frequented footpaths, aim at spontaneous use. Concrete seating elements with wooden covers serve as recreation areas and at the same time structure the individual play areas. Thus the visitors are also provided resting areas which invite them to have a break as an integrated part of their physical and play activities.

The design concept was hence focused on the landscape garden of the 18th-19th centuries, the one of which surrounds the baroque Eutin Water Castle. The visual axes laid out in the landscape garden, including the lake, are essential parts of the overall design concept. The connections between the city and the lake, which so far have hardly been noticed outside the palace garden, have now become the basis of the open space experience. In this way, a newly interpreted, visibly contemporary cultural landscape has been created based on both historical horticultural aspects and multifaceted recreational and leisure offerings.

Eutin is a good example of how a city of an extraordinary location can enhance its identity through play and leisure activities. While more and more people decide to move into big cities, the leisure aspect is gaining importance for small towns with regards to the locational factor. The rediscovery of the waterfront locations has a profile-building effect for tourism and location marketing and increases the identification of the citizens with their city. The accentuation of the exceptional open space and location strengthens the profile of the city of Eutin both externally and internally. 


Integrating physical activity into everyday life

Through both the interlocking fitness offers and the everyday environment, access to physical activities has become much easier. Parks and squares become attractive to a wider public by combining classical recreation with contemporary leisure activities throughout the entire area. When public spaces and their leisure-related usability merge, it becomes easier for cities to provide access to open space activities. We should be enabled to become physically active everywhere, not just on separate playgrounds. Isolated, enclosed sports facilities are no longer attractive to children and young people. Sports facilities must therefore be redesigned to incorporate a variety of new, individual trend sports. 

Games, sports and the city as such must thus come together and be reflected in outdoor facilities which are easily accessible, open to the public and city-friendly. Two premises must be adhered to: Firstly, games must provide a range of physical activities, and secondly, trend sports must be combined with club sports the fact of which requires new types of open space. Club sports should be integrated into public open spaces with spontaneous users, thus making everyday use and self-development more attractive while at the same time providing recreational opportunities for spectators. In this way, new open spaces for sports, games and exercise can become more accessible and attractive for everybody.


Further information:

 Customer: City of Eutin 

Development period: 2013 – 2016

Overall construction costs: 6.4 million euros

Surface area: 16.5 hectares

Editors: Jan Grimmek, Maren Jeschke, Hendrikje Unteutsch, Sibylle Lacheta, Joachim Naundorf Carole Blessner, Pamela Ackermann, Daniel Groß 



Site plan: Seepark Eutin




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