Listening to the Children and taking their ideas seriously

By Dipl. ing. (FH) Ms Silvia Held, Freelance Landscape Architect

Listening to the Children and taking their ideas seriously

The Colleggarten is an inner-city park in northern Nuremberg. There was a great deal of discontent with the municipal plans. In the end, solutions were found, however – particularly for the playground, where the children love to come and feel at ease, let off steam, exercise on the equipment and learn and grow playfully.

The existing children's playground in the Nuremburg Colleggarten park facility underwent renovations in the summer of 2014 in the context of general restoration. This offered an opportunity to create an extensive play area for all ages in the densely populated northern section of the city. The green space already offered the area required for a spacious play facility. It also represented an opportunity to enhance the value of the neglected green space located next to the state archive.

As a playground planner, all this meant I had an exceptional project on my desk – projects of this size are not common. It was, in short, a major challenge. After some reflection, I envisioned a playground that would fit harmoniously into the park and yet shape the character of the park through its design. My main goal was to build a facility for the children that fostered development. Children should have options that encourage them to move, to exercise – preferably with lasting appeal, to inspire them to return again and again.

In the brainstorming process, there were numerous goals on the table: a small "discovery world" for children aged 3-6 years, authentic challenges for the 6-12 year-olds, and a suitable common area for adolescents. All options had to conform to the space and the existing tree population. It had to be a beautiful space in which the young and old are happy to spend time, preferably with a special, distinctive design that fits into the green space next to the state archive. These objectives had to be achieved in a manner that was affordable. I wanted to avoid structures that consumed a great deal of building material and did not offer a lot of potential for development.

The result was meant to be a kind of blank slate for the development of the children. Children want to learn. When they are able to do something, they instinctively move on to the next challenge.

They experiment and gain experience on their own as to what they are capable of and what they still need to practice. This is anatural process that happens of its own accord – if the child has the opportunity to allow it to happen. The new playground was meant to offer this in a wide range of difficulty levels.

At the start of the planning process, the Nuremberg Youth Welfare Office organized a user participation group. The invited children were permitted to provide their own ideas. Many even brought pictures they had drawn to show what they wanted for the new playground. As was often the case in the Nuremberg children's participation meetings, they frequently expressed ideas that were challenging and adventurous. High climbing towers and bridges, long slides with curves, swing ropes, nets for climbing. Nothing boring, as they themselves stated. Interestingly, among the ideas was a double ropeway. How uncomplicated would the playground process be, if one simply took the desires of the children seriously? They intuitively know what they need for their own healthy development.

With this in mind, I attempted to accommodate a lot of ideas; I worked with the terrain model so as to place everything in the available space. I discussed this model with the manufacturer, ZimmerObst. Together, we were able to consider different options and define common objectives and approaches.

Before we could build, however, we not only needed the OK of the contracting authority, but the verdict of the children, as well. The Youth Welfare Office brought us all together again and they listened, wideeyed, as we explained what was in store for them. Many children participated intensively, asking questions if they did not understand something and sympathizing when we explained how some ideas were impossible – for example, how a football field would not fit in the Colleggarten due to lack of space. In the end, the Youth Welfare Office asked the children for their opinion using three different areas to stand in. All of the children stood in the "I think it's great" area. We had the green light; we could begin.

The result was a playground divided into three areas – infants, children and adolescents – and separated through low, planted modelling. Upright, high steel poles in red and orange and floating wooden barrels form the distinct design elements that characterize the park.

The approximately 1,000 sqm area for children aged 6-12 years forms the heart of the facility. We sought to satisfy the demand for authentic challenges through the combination of height and movement in the rope structures and wood. The range of options is meant to encourage exercise activity that is rich in variety. The children must concentrate with every step, which promotes motor as well as mental development.

The result was a low rope facility with individual, floating wooden barrels that function as a stopover point, eye catcher, meeting area, viewpoint, or slide entry. I decided upon a small shape for the design of the wooden barrels. The manufacturer ZimmerObst considered a simple design that would take the idea of low material costs into account.

The facility offers options that range from simple to complex. Beams or transition ropes with guide ropes attached for smaller children and, for example, shaking platforms at different heights, a vertical net, or a hanging route three meters in height for the bigger children that want to reach their limits. If an element is too difficult, the children can go back or jump down safely. The wooden barrels with the more challenging activities are on small hills made of plastic. The 45° steep climbs function as a filter: those who manage to reach the top are also capable of mastering the challenges on the hill. Ascents of wood and rope are designed in such a way that the levels have varying spacing, so that the children must concentrate on every step and the movements become as varied as possible.

Apart from the low rope course with slide, there is a 4.50 metre high swing, a double ropeway and a trampoline for the children.

The massive tensile forces in the low rope facility were a challenge for the manufacturer, ZimmerObst. Steel was the only option for the supports. With wood, brute posts would have been necessary to handle the force. Steel supports enabled adherence to the delicate design form and a solid construction that is easy to maintain.

The same design includes a small area for toddlers of about 400 square metres. There is a wooden barrel that acts as a little house and play table in the sand for the youngest children. The use of wood, stone, rope and Formica enables the children to explore different materials. The slide and simple, low beams, nets and a plastic hill offer exercise and movement options for the little climbing champions. The toddler area was to be fenced in, so a prominent fence stands within the planting. A play element made of recycled walls and wooden elements stands in the transition to the park facility. The children can run on this.

A streetball area with options for breaks is planned for adolescents. The City of Nuremburg has not made plans for other options. It's good to see that even the adolescents test their skills on the climbing facility in the evenings.

There are many thoughts and ideas in the planning process. These are accompanied by the greatest wish, namely that the children are happy to come to the area, feel comfortable, let off steam, practice often on the equipment and foster their development in a playful manner. It is so wonderful to see that they do just that, and in great numbers.


Photo: Dipl.-Ing. (FH) Ms Silvia Held

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