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16.04.2012 - Ausgabe: 2/2012

"Together, side by side"

Eight playground equipment designers were invited to take part in an project competition to fulfil the challenging task of devising a concept for an exercise and experience play area for the Manegg and SKB - Schule für Körper- und Mehrfachbehinderte (school for physical and multiple disabled) school houses in Zurich.


In spring of 2011, the KuKuk - Kunst Kultur Konzeption (art, culture, conception) company from Stuttgart, Germany, planned an exercise and experience play area on the grounds of the Manegg school, a general education school and the SKB school, a school for physical and multiple disabled children. The play area was designed as an exercise landscape to satisfy the vigorous exercise requirements of the children while also providing secluded areas in enclosed crawl spaces and beneath platforms. It can be used by healthy children as well as those with a walking disability or confined to a wheelchair.

The project is a first for the city of Zurich. City councillor Ruth Genner emphasised: "I am very pleased with this unique facility. "Grün Stadt Zürich", the parks and gardens department of the city of Zurich, have created a recreation area which fulfils the requirement of all its different users." Her colleague, city councillor Gerold Lauber was also happy with the positive enhancement of the local area created by the new playground. "The attractive play landscape enables all children and youngsters in the neighbourhood to play and exercise in their leisure time even outside school hours."

Exercise and experience play area

An experience path leads through the playground, joining the differently designed areas of the play landscape – the field of stelae with a climbing frame and a tower slide, the monkey ropes and the so-called wall labyrinth. The path is laid with coloured rubber granulate flooring which is excellently suited for wheelchairs and walking frames due to its non-slip, durable and low impact properties.

A small tower slide is reached after climbing over a field of stelae, a balancing stockade and a climbing frame. While jumping, stepping and balancing over these obstacles, the children improve their sense of balance and vestibular awareness. At the top of the slide they can consciously perceive sounds which are collected from a particular direction and bundled and intensified in an ear trumpet. A platform is located half way up the tower slide and can be reached by children with a walking disability via step-shaped platforms and rope holds which they can use to pull themselves up with. From this platform, they can use a disability-adapted slide to reach the playground again.

The monkey swing section is made up of thick ropes which can be used to swing from one stele to the next or to balance along ropes fastened at different heights – promoting a sense of balance and coordination. More adept and bolder children can swing on the higher ropes, others remain at a lower height until they are confident enough to climber higher. A major role is played here by the readiness of the children to take a risk and venture forward. In some places, the ropes have been placed at a height where they can be reached by children sitting in wheelchairs, who can then pull themselves along using them like lianas in a rope forest.

The wall labyrinth, which is made of slightly angled wooden walls with wooden podiums and a wooden hammock, provides the children with a varied range of sensory perception. Orange and blue sheets of plexiglass mounted in the wooden walls allow the world to be perceived in different colours. In shades of orange, everything is strongly structured and strong contrasts can be seen. In blue, it seems slightly blurred as practically no contrasts can be seen through the blue panes. Walls made up of a combination of different materials (stone, wood, glass and metal) are designed as "touch areas" for haptic experience. Distorting mirrors made of polished steel are also mounted on the walls and produce bizarre effects, distorting reality to the amusement of the children. "Rotating discs" produce optical stimuli. Depending on the direction in which they are turned, a closing or opening spiral shape can be seen. The wooden hammock at the rear of the playground is fastened at all four corners and swings between the posts. The swinging movement is stronger when several children lie on it than only one alone. It is a pleasant sensation to lie there with closed eyes, abandoned to the movement. This wooden hammock, the different podiums and the listening room at the top of the tower slide are quiet areas providing seclusion, meeting points and observation posts and are all accessible for children with disabilities. In the wall labyrinth, the phenomena experienced by the senses become apparent through the movement and actions of the children who learn to consciously use their senses, to learn how these work and in doing so, discover themselves.

Part of the constructions and play objects as well as the rubber-granulate flooring are coloured in shades of red, orange and blue to make them stand out from their surroundings. The colours create a cheerful atmosphere and set highlights in the playground while improving orientation.

Along with the fun factor and the possibility of letting off steam, children using the playground equipment in Manegg also learn to sound out their limits and to assess danger and risks correctly – how much confidence do I have in myself? When am I in danger of falling? Do I dare to make the jump to the next safe spot? The monkey ropes make it particularly clear how children in wheelchairs can be given freedom of movement and how they then play with their classmates as if taken for granted.

The school playground of the Manegg and SKB schools was designed as an exercise and experience play area by the landscape architects responsible for the complete facilities, the Berchtold Lenzin company in Zurich. It is made up of different areas which in some cases are characterised by a compact structure, but where free spaces are also formed, posing the children the question: "Am I inside? – Am I outside?" In a world where sensory overload often occurs and where conscious sensory experiences have become rare, this playground facility represents a place where the senses can be stimulated in a variety of ways and where children are given the opportunity of learning about the world for themselves.

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