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15.04.2021 - Ausgabe: 2/2021

Everything from a single source

By Dipl.-Ing. Rainer Kronenberg, landscape architect BDLA (Federation of German Landscape Architects)

© Berliner Seilfabrik GmbH & Co

Cologne’s Rathenauplatz is located in the heart of the inner-city district of Neustadt-Süd, amidst a densely built-up area with an old-town flair. For many years, the area covering more than five acres has been used by the residents of Cologne’s most densely populated district as a “green” place to get some exercise, play and socialize. While the central part of the square is used as a park and recreation space, the southern and northern parts are home to municipal children’s playgrounds and a football pitch where, in good weather, sometimes as many as 500 children and young people can be found playing. 

Since autumn last year, a spectacular climbing tower has been extending over nine metres skyward at Rathenauplatz in Cologne and “spiralling” into the sky between the surrounding trees with its structure resembling that of DNA. You can ascend the tower via three-dimensional climbing nets inside the tower, before enjoying a thrilling ride down the tunnel slide. Once you have reached the ground, you will directly get to the huge play sculpture “Shout”. Entirely in pastel turquoise, the curved steel tubes, which form the frame for spatial nets with different mesh sizes, wind across the northern part of Rathenauplatz. Like in a sea of ropes, you can climb, balance, hang and swing on spatial nets of different heights, some of which are diagonal. While “making your way through the waves”, you will come across numerous add-on elements waiting to be explored: nest swings, net funnels, climbing ropes, climbing plates, rubber membranes and even integrated rope ladders and monkey bars for calisthenics exercises make this new play equipment one of the most varied climbing sculptures in town. At the southern end of the climbing structure, a twisted spatial net allows you to get back to the tower without touching the ground. 

All this is the result of a focused and ambitious renovation process initiated in spring 2019 on behalf of the City of Cologne, in particular the Office for Children, Youth and Family Affairs, Department of Children’s Interests and Youth Promotion, the Civic Centre and residents of Rathenauplatz, as well as the Kronenberg landscape architecture firm. 

After playground inspections had shown that the upper path surface partly consisted of fill material that was contaminated with heavy metals, especially lead, the playground had to be closed, decontaminated and redeveloped thoroughly. Since Rathenauplatz is a centrally located, inner-city square that is used by many residents of all ages and with different needs as an important leisure and recreation area in everyday life, it was essential to develop a solution that would meet the different requirements of the users and at the same time could be implemented as quickly as possible so that the square would not have to remain closed for too long. 

This was achieved by involving the different interest groups in the playground redevelopment process at an early stage through the participation of children and local residents. At two meetings of the Office for Children’s Interests with over 100 children, young people and adults from the surrounding neighbourhood at Rathenauplatz, interviews were conducted, and the participants engaged in brainstorming, discussions, drawing and painting. 

The evaluation of the results provided the following findings: the parties involved wanted a playground that would meet the needs of small children on the one hand and provide a wide range of exciting activities for older children on the other. Consequently, it was decided at this point to have two different play areas. The southern part of Rathenauplatz was to be transformed into a toddler and family area with attractive exercise opportunities and a water playground for children under 3 to 6 years of age, as well as adequate seating and recreation areas for parents. The approximately 3,000 square metre northern area of the square was to be reserved for the older children in the future. The older children and young people wanted to be able to play “undisturbed” by adults, climb as high as on trees, do sports and chill out. 

When choosing the playground equipment for this area, it was therefore important to provide a varied range of fun activities and challenges that hold maximum appeal for older children as well. At the same time, it was important to do justice to Rathenauplatz and its significance as a centrally located, inner-city square. If possible, the new playground equipment was to have a sculptural touch; it was to be a work of art and playground equipment at the same time. 

The decision was soon made in favour of the DNA Tower from Berliner Seilfabrik. Not only because it offers a wide range of exciting activities, but also because its modern and sculptural design brings a breath of fresh air to the square. Resembling the structure of DNA, the play sculpture spirals skyward. The organic shapes of the round tubes and spheres in green and beige blend in well with the overall appearance of the square, which is planted with trees. Despite its considerable play volume of 82 m3, providing climbing fun for up to 65 children at once, the tower appears to be almost see-through due to its open façade design. This not only helps to keep the playground bright, open and accessible, but also generates an interesting interplay of light and shadow on the ground of Rathenauplatz. 

A key aspect of the appealing and stimulative nature of spatial nets such as this is the possibility of climbing dizzy heights without having to resort to additional safety measures such as climbing harnesses. Spatial nets are designed to ensure that falls from a height exceeding the maximum free fall height are always cushioned by the net underneath. At the same time, climbing teaches children and young people about risk assessment and their own limits. Children have to assess for themselves what they are capable of and how to cope with fear in difficult situations, e.g. at great heights. A sense of achievement has an immediate positive and motivating effect on their self-confidence and their ability to safeguard themselves. 

The next planning step involved finding a way to implement the design of the climbing tower in the plane. An overly additive design, which would involve the addition of further free-standing equipment to the spatial net, was definitely to be avoided in order to maintain the sculptural character of the play area. At the same time, it was important to maintain a high play value and to offer as many additional and attractive exercise opportunities as possible. 

The key lay in the customized Shout structure, which is attached to the tower. In addition to providing plenty of opportunities to play, do sports and chill out, the sculpture’s futuristic design is also impressive, with its spatial nets with height differences of up to almost three metres and numerous add-on elements. A total of 110 metres of tubing wind and twist over 300 square metres at Rathenauplatz. Besides the uniform colouring, the decisive factor behind the integrative design between the climbing tower and the Shout structure was maintaining the same tube diameter of 133 mm. This gives the impression of a smooth transition between the units. 

The abstract character of the play sculpture also has a direct effect on the play value: as there is no given theme, the children have the opportunity to implement their own play ideas and to redefine them again and again. Sometimes Shout is a ship on the high seas, sometimes it is a jungle bridge that has to be crossed, and some other times it might be a giant dragon taking you through the air on its back – there are no limits to your imagination.

After an intensive and constructive design phase with Berliner Seilfabrik, the Office for Children’s Interests and Youth Development of the City of Cologne and the Kronenberg landscape architecture firm, the final design was presented to the members of the public participation group and the decision-makers at the City of Cologne and met with enthusiasm. Despite the considerable financial effort that had to be made for the decontamination of the square and for the playground equipment, the City of Cologne approved the necessary funding, thus demonstrating impressively the high priority that is given to the needs of children, young people and families in the city. 

The planning phase was followed by an intensive construction phase. Not only were about 3000 cubic metres of contaminated soil remediated in record time between February and October 2020, but an impressive playground was also built. 


Further information:

Landschaftsarchitektur-Büro Kronenberg

Landschaftsarchitekt  AKNW

An der Sülz 22 A, D- 51789 Lindlar




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