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02.12.2021 - Ausgabe: 6/2021

The Springsiedlung residential area in Berlin - inclusive play areas in the midst of a large housing estate of the 1960s

By Claus Herrmann (company hochC Landschaftsarchitekten PartGmbB / www.hochc.de) and Uli Paulig

© Marcus Witte

The Springsiedlung residential area is located in Berlin-Kreuzberg and embedded between Mehringplatz and the Jewish Museum. The outdoor facilities were planned by the landscape architect’s office hochC between 2017 and 2021 and thoroughly restored and renewed. The playgrounds were developed in close collaboration with Uli Paulig and commissioned by the Berlin property company Deutsche Wohnen SE.

The Springsiedlung is unique in Berlin for its location as it was arranged according to the concepts of suburban settlements in the reconstruction years after World War II, close to the West Berlin city border, but is now located in the city centre, and even in the geographic centre of the entire city of Berlin. Instead of the block perimeter development that had been typical until then, the large housing estate was built on the outskirts of West Berlin in the shadow of the Wall. It is equipped with generous green spaces which are hardly found in inner cities of today. The green areas surround the residential buildings that have been constructed in an open design. The former border crossing Checkpoint Charlie is not far away. When the Springsiedlung was planned and built in the heyday of the Cold War, the urban developers probably did not believe in the reunification of the two German states. After the reunification, the open spaces of the Springsiedlung were hardly modernised, the playgrounds were no longer in good condition, and the open spaces were mainly used as transit space between the car park and the residential buildings. 

In a previous issue of Playground@Landscape (06/2020), we presented the revitalisation concept and the restoration of the open spaces of this residential area. Now we would like to focus on the aspirations of inclusive playground planning and how these were implemented in the Springsiedlung with its new and large playgrounds.

Although inclusive playground planning has been anchored in legislation for a long time (Basic Law, Equality Act, UN Conventions, Rights for Children, etc.), it is only the amendment of Standard DIN 18 034 that provides planning offices with the appropriate means for targeted application. Part 1 of this standard was published last year, and Part 2, the "technical report", is expected to be published next year. In Part 2, the scope of action regarding the implementation of an inclusive playground will be described in more detail and will provide us with planning security when dealing with people with and without disabilities on playgrounds. This part 2 of the Standard DIN TR 18 034, the so-called matrix, has not yet been adopted and is therefore not yet standardised and will be applied by us within a "practical test".

When the Springsiedlung was planned, we were able to draw on our extensive experience, as we did not yet have the elaborated version of the matrix. We were also aware that the playground facilities in the Springsiedlung and the "informal" play facilities along the way would be of great importance when it comes to the creation of identification. Besides we wanted to create the most possible multi-layered and inclusive opportunities for encounters within the Springsiedlung. The developer considered and still considers the redesign and further development of the open spaces of the Springsiedlung as a model project for sustainable settlement development and accordingly supports the planning processes.

The inner-city playground is one of the social places where especially children and young people with and without disabilities can play together, where accompanying persons with and without disabilities can meet and exchange ideas and experience beautiful moments together in familiar surroundings. In the best case, these are play spaces with potential of shared experience that are characterised by inclusive play offers and high play value, by playground planning instead of just being "furnitured”. 

We consider meeting opportunities to be areas that specifically promote the encounter of people with and without disabilities. Previously we didn’t know in detail whether and to what extent people with disabilities lived in the Springsiedlung residential area as tenants. However, from our point of view, this aspect is not at all significant, since everybody could be affected from restraints in life due to certain circumstances and then the relevant environment must also be available, at least as long as a self-determined life is possible. 

In inclusive playground planning, particularly the social aspects must be taken into account. These include communication, self-awareness, group play, individual play and encounter.

The fact that the five small playgrounds in the Springsiedlung were to be combined into two larger play areas already in the preliminary design phase was helpful for the planning phase. Thus we were able to plan in a more targeted and generous manner and were more flexible in the implementation.

The playground highlight is a unique play landscape on the central playground that offers a variety of challenges, such as a high tube slide, various towers interlocked with each other with different ascents, which were developed and built in this way for the first time in the Springsiedlung. The towers were given incentives for sensory perception: for example, vision can be promoted via different colour windows that make the light of the interior areas of the towers appear in different colours. Some specific barrier-free accessible areas are provided with distorting mirrors and reflecting ceiling elements. Tactile sensations are achieved through the use of different materials, and the physical sensing is promoted through sensory showers. The sensory perceptions of smelling and tasting are dealt with separately.

Next to the large play area there is an adventure play area for small children, which is interrupted by a wooden walkway with sensory showers. Different sand play areas are arranged in circle segments, which can also be accessed by wheelchair users. The platforms are staggered at different heights to provide an optimal transfer area for wheelchair users of different heights. The sand lifts are very easily accessible within these sand construction sites for transferring sand from different locations. In addition to sand screens, there are other large holes in the circle segments. These are designed to make playing easier for people with and without disabilities. The platforms are used by children in wheelchairs as transfer platforms. Below the platforms, one can access the upper play levels. Around the sand area there is the so-called "Pumptrack" which is considered a small "off-road track" for wheelchairs, walkers, bicycles, tricycles, scooters, bobbycars, etc. The "Pumptrack" was made of different materials and consists of path sections made of wood, of wooden paving, of steeply placed wooden strips, of logs, of terrace areas with different laying directions and of terrace areas with built-in elements, the so-called "Nupsis”, which are small bumps in the ground that, for example, cause wheelchairs to lean within an area, and provoke challenges without increasing the risk of accidents. 

Away from these play areas, there are several large platforms to sit or lie down at, snack gardens and olfactory gardens. Here, the sensory perceptions of smelling and tasting are specifically addressed. The pedestals are round and raised. The border at the same time serves as a seating area. They are located within wheelchair-accessible lawns. Inside the area is provided with edible plants, such as wild strawberries and currants. The first experiences have shown that these areas are very well accepted and respected by the tenants, so that there is confidence to be able to integrate more useful plants in the Springsiedlung.

A separate seating area with a table is available in the light shade of a huge sugar maple tree. Sunny and shady areas alternate, as a small birch grove has also been planted. Alternative options are available at another play area, designed mainly from materials such as stones, wood and water.

Based on our experience of the past two years, which due to the Covid-19 pandemic caused considerable pressure on the use of the areas, we can state that the concept has been excellently accepted and that the playgrounds have acquired a central importance for the neighbourhood and have become important social meeting places.
 We were also particularly pleased that the residents, especially in the vicinity of the play areas, have founded an action group on their own initiative, which helps to ensure that "their" playgrounds are maintained and not littered. This is a good sign regarding the successful social appropriation of the open spaces. Regular rubbish collection campaigns by residents take place, which make an important contribution to maintaining the attractiveness of the playgrounds due to their heavy use also by people from other neighbourhoods. 

The purposefully used equipment of the play facilities with high play value promotes the togetherness of all people. It is a fully inclusive play space that would also be confirmed by a matrix. However, the implementation of this inclusive play space didn’t cause higher costs compared to the production of conventional play facilities.


Further information: 

Podcast 13 Let's talk Landscape with Uli Paulig: https://www.hochc.de/podcast/beitraege-podcasts/podcast-folge-13-spielraeume-mit-ulrich-paulig.html



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