Slide 0
Slide 1
Slide 2
Slide 6
Slide 7
Slide 8
12.08.2022 - Ausgabe: 4/2022

New play areas for the Socially Integrative City of Bernberg

By Eva Schiemann (Greenbox Landschaftsarchitekten Hubertus Schäfer + Markus pieper Partnergesellschaft mbB)
© Nikolai Benner

Bernberg is one of the most densely populated districts of the town of Gummersbach in the Oberberg area. The coexistence of different nationalities and the cultural diversity are what make this district so special. And even though Bernberg has many positive qualities, its image has been tarnished in recent years. Reconciling the widely differing interests of the heterogeneous population in such a densely populated area is an increasing challenge for the town and its residents. 

The Bernberg neighbourhood is going through a phase of upheaval and - like most rural areas in North Rhine-Westphalia - is facing the effects of demographic change. The district is characterized by typical structures from the 1960s and 1970s, and there is a need for urban renewal in many places. The public space, shaped by the planning approaches of its time, also does not reflect the current understanding of high-quality green and open spaces. The question of how Bernberg's citizens want to live well together in the future needed to be answered. 

The "Socially Integrative City of Bernberg" urban development programme opened up the opportunity to redesign the public spaces in order to increase the amenity value and improve the quality of life. 

By actively involving the local population and many local players, we developed a target group-oriented concept in a cooperative workshop that focuses on Bernberg's individual potentials and characteristics. Based on this concept, the open spaces of the district were designed to be sustainable and in keeping with the location, and in the future, they will once again promote coexistence and social interaction in this neighbourhood, which is characterized by its many different cultures. 

Bernberg is characterized by its distinctive topography. While its centre is situated in a valley, the south and north are situated in a highly prominent location. The district is surrounded by beautiful meadows and forests, which are made accessible by hiking trails and are used by the local population as local recreation areas.

A green corridor stretching through the district from north to south has different characteristics and provides a pathway network accentuating the north-south axis. Unlike the continuous alignment of pathways in the north, it has several gaps in the south. A number of major social institutions are located along this north-south axis. 

The redesigned district centre with its new market square and refurbished meeting place represents the urban hub within this "Green Joint". The meandering pathways in the undulating green corridor are dispersed with play and recreational facilities and ensure low-barrier access and use for pedestrians and cyclists. The winding course of the pathways gave rise to the idea of "landscape cascades". These are laid out as horizontal levels in the sloping terrain and form ground-level spaces with different ambiences and functions. The range of services is geared to the usage of the adjoining existing areas and responds to it. In this way, new target group-oriented meeting points and recreational spaces are created along the north-south axis. A viewing platform and an activity platform as well as playgrounds and landscaped areas were designed and adapted to meet the needs of the younger population.  

The continuous and uniformly designed north-south axis connects the landscape cascades with the centre and encourages users to explore these spaces:



The first meandering pathway provides the framework for the playground at the beginning of the north axis. The resulting topography also forms an edge that encloses the area and whose sloping climbing walls provide an interplay with the varying elevations of the levels. This difference in elevation allows for various play opportunities such as sliding and climbing. The sandy ground serves both as fall protection and as a play area and is also used for the Letter Course, whose playable letters combine different cultures and languages in a playful manner. 

An adjacent meadow marks the eastern edge of the playground. Here you will find an area with swings, in-ground trampolines, and other play opportunities, including free, unstructured play, inviting you to embark on adventures and encouraging you to explore the surrounding landscape in a playful way. 


First cascade  

The first pathway widening in the north-south direction forms one of the numerous entrance squares. Here you will find benches to linger and rest. The landscape cascades adjoining the square cater for a variety of uses. The platform was extended to include stools for sitting in order to provide a place for people to meet and socialize and to have a picnic. Free, unstructured play offers children the opportunity to explore nature with tall grasses and wooden platforms. The sand lab encourages trial and error and hands-on experimentation with sand screens and play walls, and focuses on children’s cognitive development. The lowest level of the first cascade is a place to be creative with a colorful tartan surface and a chalkboard on the walls waiting to be painted. Floor markings provide stimuli for learning geometric shapes and encourage children to retrace them.


Second cascade 

Two entrance squares frame the second cascade from above and below. Thanks to its topography, the top level serves as a place for people to unwind and slow down. Citizens can rest on sun loungers and spend time enjoying the peace and quiet. Following the topography downwards, two aromatic gardens thematically tie in with the concept of contemplation. Conscious perception of visual, olfactory and haptic stimuli, which are achieved by perennials and herbs changing with the seasons, allow you to take a step back from the everyday hustle and bustle. 

The last level, with the lower entrance square and the boules court, has once again been provided with an area where people can get together and interact in a playful way. Benches along the way and places to stay offer additional opportunities to linger and rest. 


Third cascade 

The church square marks the starting point of the third cascade, which is generally more unobtrusive in design. There are spacious seating and recreation areas in the forecourt of the church. Along the pathway there are quiet planted areas and some small seating areas. Further along this cascade, there is a pedestrian bridge that leads directly to the center of the district. 

The overall concept is characterized by the playground equipment, furnishings and planting designed in the violet colour scheme chosen by the citizens. To further reinforce the impression of a connecting north-south axis, we opted for a uniform and significant planting concept. This supplementary level extends along the north-south axis as a "river of trees" in the form of multi-stem trees and shrubs. Depending on the season, these highlight the open spaces in the district and turn them into real eye-catchers, provide charming backdrops and lend the place a high recognition value. As the seasons change, striking blossoms and colourful autumn foliage add colour and beauty to the district. 

To enhance the identity and visibility, our team developed a customized furnishing concept for Bernberg that was adapted to the local conditions. It involves elements that have a high recognition value, blend in harmoniously with the district, and can be expanded as needed. In addition, the furnishing concept comprises a separate signage system for Bernberg as well as for the surrounding hiking trails. 

The seating furniture caters to the different typologies: for the park pathways and squares, the seating is polygonal and made of metal, matching the colour of the signage and featuring a sleek design. Thanks to its modern design, the furniture has a high recognition value, creates a sense of identity and blends in with the overall colour concept.

The district centre has so far been a mere functional transitory space with little to offer in the way of appealing amenity or recreational areas. In order to reinforce the general public’s perception of the centre as a place of interaction and recreation for the people of Bernberg, we incorporated it into the new design concept while pursuing the furnishing and planting concept of the north axis. A combination of stairs and ramps provides barrier-free access within the district centre and makes the space accessible to all age groups. 

The implemented measures help to improve the living conditions in the district and to revive Bernberg as an attractive and unique living space for its residents. The neighbourhood should continue to be an attractive place to live for young families and young people, provide an elderly-friendly environment and be a place that encourages the integration of different cultures. 

In May of this year, the project was awarded the nrw.landschaftsarchitektur.preis 2022 (2022 Landscape Architecture Prize of North Rhine-Westphalia). The jury praised the "high design, social and functional quality, also in details, and the citizens' participation inherent to the system". 


Further Information:

About the project: https://www.greenbox.la/neugestaltung-bernberger-zentrum-gummersbach/

About nrw.landschaftsarchitektur.preis 2022: https://www.bdla.de/de/landesverbaende/nordrhein-westfalen/nachrichten/3467-nrw-landschaftsarchitektur-preis-2022-verliehen

Mehr zum Thema Playground Report


Playground Report

Play areas for leisure and tourism - based on the example of the aerial cableway of Jakobsbad-Kronberg (CH)

In the Märliwelt fairy tale world all kids are taken into a world full of adventure with water and sand up to airy climbing heights. A guarantee for amazed children's eyes and relaxed parents.


Playground Report

Playground facility with the external effect of creating identification: Climbing like the goats in the Quadrath-Ichendorf animal park, Bergheim

The public animal park in Bergheim is considered an attraction, a place of identification and the 'green centre' of the Quadrath-Ichendorf district due to its subliminal and attractive offer. It is here where ...


Playground Report

Creative play involving the elements – the water playground in Scheveningen

Dunes, beach and the sea form the backdrop to a very special playground in Scheveningen, a suburb of The Hague. Directly on the coast, in the "Scheveningse Bosjes"...


Playground Report

Water playgrounds for Düsseldorf

Playing with water fascinates children. When Ulrich Wolf, former Head of the Garden, Cemetery and Forestry Office in Düsseldorf, gained this insight, he decided to develop a new type of playground. From 1955 onwards...


Playground Report

A new large playground for the Osnabrück Hasepark

The Hasepark (*the Hase is a river of the federal Land of Lower Saxony) in the east of Osnabrück owes its name to the adjacent water course. The Hase, as the original Klöckner-Hase is called, flows south of the city park, separating...