Playground facility with the external effect of creating identification: Climbing like the goats in the Quadrath-Ichendorf animal park, Bergheim
By Michael Mielke, MOLA Landschaftsarchitektur GmbH, Düsseldorf
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 a striking inclusive playground facility was created with the participation of local stakeholders and user groups. The project was supported by the funding programme of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
Originally the zoo was built almost 60 years ago for the recreation of the citizens living in Quadrath-Ichendorf within the steadily growing coal region and today, together with the adjacent school locations, a senior citizens' residence and sports and leisure facilities, it represents an important part of the urban structure.
In 2005, the zoo almost had to be closed due to high costs, and car parks and building plots were planned for the area instead. In order to preserve this jewel, the Förderverein Tierpark Quadrath-Ichendorf e.V. (Quadrath-Ichendorf Zoo Association) was founded in 2010 and since then has dedicated itself with voluntary commitment to the maintenance, further development and, last but not least, also the financial background for the operation of this facility located on public space.
The zoo is very popular and the leisure centre of the district. In addition to the actual animal enclosure with its pond, it also provides public access to play areas, a senior citizens' meeting place and a youth area. Due to the gradually added and partly outdated playground equipment and furnishing elements, the green space did not have a uniform design quality. Furthermore, the facility was not open to the public and thus could not be used by everyone.
In order to strengthen the social, ecological and design functions of the entire district of Quadrath-Ichendorf, the district town of Bergheim and its municipal subsidiary, the Entwicklungsgesellschaft Bergheim, decided to apply for funding from the ERDF programme. The Cologne-based office Stadt- und Regionalplanung Dr. Jansen was commissioned to prepare the application and the associated analysis of the district's potential by involving also the citizens. The extensive analysis and conception process with the involvement of local actors included a multiple commissioning process in which several planning offices developed ideas in order to find the most sustainable concept for the district.
However, we were able to convince the jury, supported by public participation, with our ideas. Under the project title "Barrier-free and ecological renewal of the Quadrath-Ichendorf Zoo", a planning process was initiated in which, among other things, a playground facility with a thematic reference to the zoo has been developed.
In addition to fallow deer and poultry, the zoo is also home to goats, which find their shelter and climbing opportunities in a striking climbing rock. This led to the idea of incorporating the design of the goat enclosure into the public space by developing a thematic playscape. The citizens and especially the children who took part in this participatory process were very enthusiastic about this idea. Around 70 participants contributed their ideas. In addition to sufficient play opportunities in a spatially coherent context, the participants demanded play areas for children of all ages. In particular children asked for inclusive offerings.
The company Kinderland Emsland Spielgeräte from Geeste supported us in implementing the concept and integrating the ideas from the population into a specific design and implementation planning. Within the public and product-neutral tender for the entire measure of upgrading the zoo grounds, this company was awarded the contract for the delivery and installation of the planned play combinations.
The centrepiece of the playscape is a fall protection sand area with four areas of synthetic fall protection lying like islands in this area. The colour of the top layer was consciously kept in grey and green to strengthen the natural charm of the facility. Two areas are designed as gentle hills with drain concrete as a substructure approx. 30 and 60 cm above the sand level in order to create an exciting topographical play experience in the sense of 'goat climbing'. The transition between the hills and the sand area was consciously modelled with a strong inclination angle (approx. 45°) in order to keep the hills free from play sand. In addition, two barrier-free levels made of synthetic fall protection ensure accessibility to a nest swing and a sliding play wall. In order to maintain the 'island character' of the synthetic fall protection areas and the barrier-free accessibility, one of the areas is accessible beyond the fall protection sand via a wooden footbridge.
Within the large play area, the 1.00 m wide free-fall slide made of stainless steel with a drop height of approx. 3 metres and high gradient is the main attraction. The width of the slide allows two children to slide down at the same time.
The ascent to the slide entrance was consciously designed in a challenging way. The young visitors have to climb upwards via a climbing trunk with handrail and balancing ropes and via a steep net ascent. Those who overcome these hurdles will also find the sliding descent to level zero. When children are playing there, it is very exciting to watch this area. At the beginning, in particular smaller children climb up very carefully and then look down hesitantly when they arrive at the top of the slide entrance. Once they have mastered to climb up and slide down, the cycle is repeated ever more quickly as the children gain more confidence.
The main playground consists of a climbing circuit with different levels of difficulty and play value. After having observed the use of the facility it has shown that, fortunately, a competitive game has been developed by the users which has the goal of not touching the ground during a complete round trip. Furthermore, there is a tree house with a net bridge made of Hercules rope, rope crossings, net bridges, climbing logs and balancing bollards as well as a balancing Mikado made of 16 robinia logs. To emphasise the thematic reference to the zoo grounds, carved goats are sitting on the highest points. At its highest point, the free fall height of the installation is 2.50 m.
The entire play landscape is designed to provide a variety of sensory stimulation. In order to appeal to the tactile senses, the play elements are made of different materials. The focus here is on naturally grown materials such as posts made of freely grown, peeled and polished robinia trunks. Inspired by the goat climbing rock in the animal enclosure, three 'floating' rocks made of freely modelled and coloured concrete were installed in the play area. They consist of a steel reinforcement with a mesh grid and an approx. 12 - 15 cm thick layer of shotcrete applied in a dry spraying process. The rocks are held 'in the air' with threaded sleeves by colour-coated metal posts. Due to their apparent hovering, the rocks stimulate the children's curiosity and are like target points which must be climbed when visiting the facility.
In addition to the play equipment itself, the design of the play area is also very well structured. In addition to greywacke blocks and robinia trunks as sand play borders and boulders, an area called 'Animal Safari' has been created. On winding narrow wooden chaff paths, playable wild boar carvings and a playhouse with offers for children under 3 can be discovered between dense, robust vegetation, including shrub willows and hazelnut bushes.
In cooperation with the green care and maintenance department as well as the representative for people with disabilities of the city of Bergheim, a barrier-free design concept could be developed. Thus, the main entrances to the grounds are barrier-free, taking into account safety aspects regarding the use of the playground. The necessary barriers are arranged in a way which allows wheelchair users to pass through them comfortably. When designing the areas with picnic tables and benches, enough space for wheelchairs was taken into account.
In addition to the partially barrier-free access to the main play area via the synthetic fall protection islands and footbridges, a sand play table made of robinia wood with sand sieve, sand trough and sand crane that can be accessed from underneath has also been installed. Since the safety area of 4.5 x 4.5 m with a free fall height of 83 cm must have shock-absorbing surface materials while at the same time the sand play table must be barrier-free, the sand play edging in this area is made of soft-edged stone as agreed with the playground inspector. In addition to the goal of allowing all people to participate, accessibility is also an important criterion for the funding body.
Since the local people already identified very strongly with the previous play facilities of the animal enclosure, well-preserved playground equipment such as the ropeway or a merry-go-round were retained. Other playground equipment that could not be integrated into the new design concept was reinstalled at other suitable locations in the district.
The ecological revitalisation and future-proof planting of the animal enclosure with regard to climate change will also be tackled this year. For example, tree species resistant to climate change stress will provide shade for the playing children. Planting and sowing campaigns with flowering meadows as well as sponsored flower beds strengthen the identification with this site among the local population.
When, after the approval by the playground inspector and the release for the public, whole school classes from the surrounding schools rushed to the playground facility and tried out all the play functions with concentrated force, we were admittedly quite tense. However, the playground passed its first practical test.
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...
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...