Changing lifestyles and working environments make it that children spend increasingly more time at school. Accordingly, the school building and the relevant open space are not only learning but also important living spaces...
Play for the very young - near-natural open space at Trachenberger Platz II
By Claudia Blaurock (Blaurock Landschaftsarchitektur)
When children play, they are usually totally enthralled and intuitively learn exactly what they need for their healthy development. They gain essential knowledge and skills while exploring their environment, improve their social skills in interacting with other children and give free rein to their creativity. In order for children to be able to explore their environment in an age-appropriate way, it is important that we offer them open spaces that they can explore and shape according to their needs. A playscape that is close to nature inherently has many of these characteristics and offers children opportunities for experience and physical activity for holistic development.
By enabling children to experience nature, for example, by handling different materials from their environment, different plants and aromatic herbs and fruit that they can pick and eat, they can gradually find their way into our world.
Recognizing the importance of quality open spaces for children’s development, the redesign of the day-care centre at Trachenberger Platz II began in 2017. With its shanty-type building and an elongated shed, the day-care centre from the 1970s no longer met the requirements of a modern day-care centre. Structural deficiencies could only have been remedied at great expense and the outdoor area had a kind of “GDR charm” with plastic benches, concrete slabs and concrete tables.
For the redesign of the entire day-care centre, a particularly exercise-friendly and exercise-promoting concept was to be developed for the 3,000 square metre outdoor area, especially for crèche children, according to the motto “Space for Exercise”.
Since crèche children (0-3.5 years) undergo a very rapid motor development, the idea was not to create a static playground, but rather a place for adventure that can accommodate the different levels and abilities of the youngest children and always presents new challenges, even during daily use.
During the planning of the outdoor area, Blaurock Landschaftsarchitektur were in close consultation with the clients of the Eigenbetrieb Kindertagesstätten (municipal undertaking of day-care centres) (EB Kita), the client’s representative Hochbauamt Dresden (Dresden Department of Building Construction) and the other planners involved from the very beginning. This enabled the team to respond to the wishes and needs of the future user groups throughout the entire planning process. In this way, it was possible to optimally link the indoor and outdoor spaces.
Finally, the basic concept evolved around the idea of dividing the outdoor area into different experience spaces and creating different atmospheres in order to offer the children as many incentives to be physically active as possible. The structuring was to be achieved by using near-natural materials, planting shrubs and perennials and using active ground modelling.
The building, which is located in the centre of the site, divides the open space into a front and a back garden section. The front, more “open” garden, in the direction of Trachenberger Platz, is characterised by a large “festival meadow” with plenty of space for group play, performances and festivities. A tree platform and sitting beams provide a place to meet and sit down. The wide paved area leads to the entrance as well as to the covered open space in the outbuilding and can be used by children to play running games or create extensive chalk drawings.
The rear, quieter part of the garden, as it is further away from the road, is divided into a core zone (the nest area), close to the house and within the trike track of asphalt, and an extended garden area. In the nest area, there are two sand play areas shaded by awnings and a climbing course for the very youngest children (0-2 years).
What is special about the course is that different ascents can be used (e.g. inclined plane, small staircase, ladder, etc.) and different levels of difficulty are provided along the course. For the little ones, it is quite a challenge to get to the next sloping platform after having climbed the inclined plane. Experienced children can then master the wobbly bridge or the climbing net. In addition to the climbing course, a first chain of hills can also be scaled.
The trike track for bobby cars, tricycles and scooters teaches both the “fast” kids and the slower ones on foot to be considerate and mindful of each other. Here, the children learn to come to terms with each other.
Outside the core zone, there are other places to go, such as the mud play area, the nest swing, the near-natural hillscape and the hut village. These activity and play stations offer new challenges, especially for the older crèche children (2-3.5 years) who dare to leave the nest area. These stations are divided into individual zones by plantings.
The mud play area was designed like a natural stream course on a new slope. Here, water can be conveyed into the “valley” by means of a hand lever pump and diverted in between and dammed up with built-in weirs.
Even the very youngest children will enjoy the nest swing, as several children can be gently rocked at the same time.
Particularly as they begin to be able to communicate with each other, the around three-year-olds will find new opportunities to play in the hut village: this is where they can sell “ice cream” or hide from robbers and where they can find a place of retreat on their own.
The former toboggan hill was transformed into a near-natural hill landscape with new exercise spaces and challenges. For the little ones, even climbing the hill is a real challenge and can be accomplished in many different ways: simply via the near-natural meadow (mown twice a year) or via the corduroy path or even via the stony path.
Once they reach the top, they will be rewarded with a view from the hillside balcony (of the adjacent tram station) or with a ride down the wide hill slide. The crawl tube provides another possibility to reach and experience different spaces.
The outdoor terrace is located between the front and back gardens. Here, children can have lunch in the summer or engage in other activities at the table. The north side was deliberately chosen, as the shade provided by the house and the trees integrated into the terrace provide natural cooling.
The right choice of materials is essential for a near-natural design. The use of natural materials such as robinia wood, hemp ropes and boulders in various sizes stimulates the senses and shapes the new open spaces. The mud play area adds a water feature to the site and the varied plants delight the senses with their feel and scent.
The use of different perennials and herbs that attract insects and edible shrubs really enable children to experience the environment. For instance, lemon balm and mint are already being used to make infused water, or serviceberry trees and berry bushes provide fruit for the children to enjoy picking and eating, while fragrant plants such as lavender, catmint and peppermint encourage the kids to take a sniff.
In the fringe areas, the planting has been supplemented and intensified. Further robust and hardy shrubs were planted to zone the entire site.
A special feature of the outdoor area are the old trees, which provide a lot of natural shade in the summer months and protect the children from the heat. Preserving these trees was a particularly important aspect of the planning. Therefore, trees close to the house were not felled as originally planned, but pruned, watered and fertilised throughout the construction period.
In the rear area there is access to the neighbouring day-care centre. This allows for short visits and regular exchange between the day-care centres. In addition, the entire facility was designed with accessibility and sustainability in mind.
In order for children to be able to test their limits, we as adults must also allow for manageable risk and dangers and have the necessary confidence in them, because this is the only way they can learn to react appropriately in the future. Nevertheless, there were many concerns about the children’s safety during the planning, be it because of stinging insects or steep slopes. However, through patient discussions, the parents and carers were able to ease their worries and the planning was finally implemented.
After a two-year construction period and with the help of the federal “Brücken in die Zukunft” (“Bridges to the Future”) promotional programme, the Haus der Kinder II day-care centre was opened in 2019.
For the entire team, planning an outdoor area that is close to nature and promotes physical activity was a great pleasure and at the same time a welcome challenge.
In the end, however, all the efforts paid off and, in addition to keeping those involved satisfied, the project won the 2019 German SPIELRAUM Award.
Area: 32,292 ft2
Planning and construction period: 2017-August 2019
Construction costs: € 480,000
Client: State Capital of Dresden, represented by the Department of
Building Construction and Real Estate Management