By Felix Dreßler (M.A. (TUM) Landscape Architect ByAK, t17 Landscape Architects GbR)
The conception, detailed design and implementation of an entire playscape is usually not part of the everyday work of landscape architects. Due to time and cost pressure, it happens all too often that the planning of play areas leads to a short catalogue search and the subsequent assembly of different-looking individual devices. Therefore, landscape architects rarely get the opportunity to deal with the topic of children's play in depth and to define a design concept in such a way that it can ultimately be transformed into an exciting and child-friendly play area. This, in turn, made the planning task of equipping the public green space of the so-called "Gleisharfe" in Munich-Neuaubing with three different play areas for different age groups all the more exciting. After several years of planning and intensive coordination among a large number of participants, this project has now been successfully implemented in the west of Munich.
The starting point for the land conversion of the former Neuaubing Railway Repair Works was the competition won by the architect’s office Meili Peter Architekten and bauchplan, landscape architects and urban planners in 2012. The design of the urban development structure is based on the shape of the former railway tracks. The quarter consists of organic building forms with curved rows of houses and central courtyards. The urban development is surrounded by a differentiated range of public open spaces and private garden areas. After completing the ideas contest on urban development and landscape planning for the northern section of the "Gleisharfe", the results were transferred into a development plan. Thus, on the approximately 3.7- hectare site at the Neuaubing city train station, a residential quarter with about 550 residential units for about 1,200 residents was created in a gradual process. There are also two day-care centres and a school. A public green space of about 2 hectares borders the neighbouring private properties to the east and the "Triebwerk München" business campus to the south.
In 2016, the landscape architect’s office t17 was commissioned by the Real Estate Agency Aurelis to plan the relevant public green space and the play areas. According to the design idea of Meili Peter Architekten and bauchplan, the park is divided into the northern green space and the southern Gleisharfepark. The green space represents an important cycle and footpath connection and links the Munich-Neuaubing railway station with the surrounding residential areas. The Gleisharfepark forms the central, public open space of the entire residential area. The "Triebwerk München" and, further on, Munich Freiham can be reached by foot via this road. The strong over-shaping of the former railway area and the different connecting heights between the existing and the newly planned areas allowed for a topographical design of the green spaces. The gently modelled slope areas contribute to a zoning of the public and private open spaces. The resulting topography and logical pathways within the site form the basic framework for the location of the play areas.
In accordance with the specifications of the development plan and the associated design guidelines, three large play areas were identified, which had to be planned and equipped for different age groups. The first playground in the southern area of the green space was mainly equipped with vertical playground equipment, which was embedded in the enlargement of the path system (vertical playground). For the second play area in the Gleisharfepark, horizontal play equipment was planned, which had to fit into the spaciousness of the park created there (Horizontal Playground). The third play area had to be placed adjacent to the day-care centre in the east of Gleisharfepark. Here, the topography played an important role when designing this play area (Topographic Playground).
Besides the difference between the vertical, horizontal and topographical playgrounds, all three play areas are thematically focused on "railways" in their design and thus on the prehistory of the site in a playful way. The aim was to transfer the design motif to individual pieces of playground equipment and to represent it in an abstracted form. As with the rest of the furniture in the outdoor space, the furnishings of the play areas had to be designed in a restrained manner. To do so, selected materials were used repeatedly and specific colour tones were used in a targeted manner. Thus, unvarnished robinia wood, natural-coloured cordage, hot-dip galvanised steel and polished stainless steel were used from start to finish. Coloured macrolon panels and painted wooden elements were chosen as colour accents for certain playground devices. Some of the playground devices were custom-made and developed in close cooperation with the company Kinderland Emsland Spielgeräte. The remaining play devices were compiled from the manufacturer's existing range and adapted to the material concept. To improve the conditions of use even on warm summer days, all play areas have been planted with trees. Furthermore, sufficient seating is provided in close proximity to the playground equipment.
The Vertical Playground (approx. 1425 m2) is the largest of the three play areas and divided into four smaller sub-areas. The age focus here is on school children and young people. Accordingly, the range of games is designed in a sports-oriented manner. The focus here is on strength sports and physical activity. The overall size of the play area also allows for the separation of a toddlers’ play area. The central play element of the vertical playground is the so-called "signal tower". The play tower provides its visitors with the possibility of climbing up on nets, ropes and poles. It is equipped with an almost 5-metre-high tunnel slide and a somewhat lower free-fall slide. There is also a swing attached to the tower. In addition, the "signal tower" is accessible via a barrier-free wooden walkway with a sand play table that can be accessed from underneath. In the lowest part of the tower, further barrier-free play facilities can be accessed. A tyre swing and a nest swing complete the range of vertical play elements. In the toddlers' play area, a playhouse is located in a sandy area, which also picks up on the "railway" theme. This playhouse is also connected via a barrier-free wooden footbridge.
The horizontal playground (approx. 900 m2) focuses on kindergarten and school children. A large horizontal net, which connects two spatially separated play areas with each other, is the highlight of this place. The net is connected from the east via a barrier-free wooden footbridge. With appropriate support, it can thus also be used as inclusive play equipment. Specially developed "balancing tracks" made of stainless-steel tubes, a rubber bridge and balancing woods can be found in both play areas of the horizontal playground. The tracks train basic motor skills and are a mixture of static and dynamic components. A hammock serves as a resting area in the midst of the play area. Erratic blocks in combination with willow plantings, as in the other play areas, serve as near-natural play and seating options.
The topographical playground (approx. 475 m2) is designed as a protected toddler area and is located in the south-eastern area of the Gleisharfepark. The play area is enclosed by two concrete walls adjacent to a grassed embankment. Along with other park benches in the vicinity, these walls also provide seating opportunities while at the same time they can be used for playing. Within the play area there is a sand area equipped with several train carriages that can be explored while crawling, standing or even running. In addition to the train carriages, other play equipment, such as wobbly boxes, stimulate the children's imagination and allow for an exciting railway adventure. An accessible slide hill and swivel sticks also provide an inclusive play offer at this site.
With the opening of the public green space in 2021 and its handover to the City of Munich, the need for a varied play offer in the vicinity of the "Gleisharfe" Neuaubing has become clearly evident. The play areas are still popular and well used today. Compared to some small-scale play facilities in the adjacent residential area, the play areas in the green space and Gleisharfepark provide a comprehensive play experience for different age groups and group sizes. The integration of barrier-free play equipment expands the individual play landscapes and also offers fun and variety for children with disabilities. The implementation shows that, if possible, this play equipment should be taken into account from the very beginning of the conception and planning in order to be able to fit into the overall picture of the play area in a meaningful way. The combination of individual custom-made products and prefabricated play elements also works well thanks to a uniform choice of materials and colours. A design leitmotif, such as the railway theme in this case, remains recognisable despite creative interpretation options, if formative elements of the play area represent the original concept in an appropriate way. Particularly regarding implementation of these specially developed solutions, the close coordination between planner and manufacturer across all service phases leads to a good result that greatly enriches the variety of play opportunities in inner-city spaces.
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