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17.08.2020 - Ausgabe: 4/2020

The whale of the Central Park Nou Barris in Barcelona

©Recreology-Lappset España

Barcelona had a plan: to create a more friendly environment for its citizens, especially the little ones. In the context of the Playable City concept, the Central Park of Nou Barris was thus chosen as one of the locations where an extraordinary play idea should be implemented. One important element for the success of this project was the participatory design process from the beginning of the conception phase of the project to the end of the final construction phase. It was the pupils from the surrounding schools who were particularly creative during the individual design phases. As the most important target group, they knew very well which elements would create incentives for physical and leisure activities in public spaces.

Based on the suggestions of the students, the idea for the creation of a playable whale for the Parc Central of Nou Barris was born. The implementation, however, could be realised with the help of the design concept of the architectural office Queralt Suau, by taking into account the following aspects:


  • to see the game in public space as a strategy that serves to redefine the place and create common (imaginary) spaces
  • to see the space as a complete integration of a system of playable elements;
  • to create a sensory and material experience through game options at different levels, taking into account different conditions and different age groups and thereby creating and promoting the widest possible variety of play opportunities and activities to develop a game system which creates space for fantasy, free play and experiments
  • to convey a sense of belonging to the place.


However, the Spanish company Recreology-Lappset España was commissioned to build this new play area in Barcelona by contributing its already extensive experience with similar game. The architect is QUERALT SUAU.


The narrative defines the space

The unique game concept represents a milestone for the park. It is here where a story has been created which defines the place in a way that motivates children and their families to discover the space. The whale, which is visible from far away through the treetops, is an attraction for all visitors and invites them to explore the space in a playful way by trying out numerous play options. The dynamic situation is recreated by the huge jumping whale, with a smaller whale next to him diving into the sea so the visitors can only see his tail fin. This situation represents the symbolic invitation to play and thus becomes the centre of this place. In the belly of the big whale, the children find themselves in a dream world that reminds them of the stories of Moby Dick and Pinocchio, the scenario of which inspires them to reinvent the game.


The eco-system of play

The eco-system of play is based on a dense sequence of different play possibilities and spatial arrangements inside the whale. The body of the whale is a large playable container the interior of which is to be explored. It is in here where space and action merge. The spatial configuration was adapted to the anatomy of the whale: The mouth becomes a vessel with a dense web of hammocks placed at different heights. The hammocks are orange, like krill, one of the most important foods for whales. Next to it the whale’s brain, which has been transformed into a large vertical labyrinth. The children have to cross this space to reach the slides, which also represent the whale's spine. Inside the belly, they enter the dream world, whose design is reminiscent of the two literary classics. The enormous sea mammal thus offers a multitude of possibilities to stimulate children's playful fantasies and enables them to freely develop their ideas. In addition, the large shoal of fish on one of the inner sides recreates a dense landscape in which the young visitors can simply go for a walk, climb or jump together. The further the children playfully explore the interior of the whale, the more intensively their autonomy is promoted by the interior design. In the depths of the sea, there is a boat of folded paper. Here, quiet play is encouraged and in particular the little ones are inspired to go on a journey of discovery. Parallel to this, on the other side, there is a buoy hanging from the top. Here, in turn, a joint effort is needed to move the large whale fin, which, once it succeeds, moves back and forth to the rhythm of the playing children. 


Materiality as play value

However, creative and fancy playing is activated by the sensory experience made inside the whale due to the materiality of the room and its history. The skin of the whale was reproduced from micro-perforated material and thus triggers a continuously changing game of seeing or being seen. The whale's mouth creates comfortable shade conditions. Hence, the boundaries between inside and outside are blurred, thus giving the game more autonomy while at the same time providing a feeling of security. Inside the whale's mouth, hammocks are placed at different heights, thus creating a spatial dynamic and visual rhythm. The individual layers inside the whale's mouth form a snake-like maze of rope and rubber, which ends at a great viewpoint. The ship that runs aground in the rubber dunes and the shoal of 400 Iroko wood fish are the protagonists of the game, which is about palpation and spatial materiality and accessible to everyone.


Playful action and discovery

The different game options provide young users with the chance to make their own experiences and to improvise freely. This results in numerous, different game variations on the different itineraries through the play area. There is no concrete game specification, only an open game system that offers numerous options, encouraged by the complexity and density of this unique game concept. All possible play options are adapted to the different age groups of the users. In sum, the integrated game system allows its users to simply let their imagination run free.


Being a part of the game

A game, which is seen as an achievement, has a threefold effect: it is a stimulus for dynamics in public space, promotes self-responsibility and transforms playing into a new form of learning. The play area of the Parc Central de Nou Barris in Barcelona stimulates children's imagination and promotes their autonomy, thus creating spatial structures in which visitors of different age groups and from different backgrounds can meet each other and develop themselves in a playful way. The playable whale therefore represents a social environment, in which a sense of belonging to the place is created thanks to the imagination and phantasy of its users. Barcelona has thus come a big step closer to its goal of becoming a playable city.


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