A meeting place for all generations where there is always something happening

by Markus Schürmann, ST-Freiraum Landschaftsarchitekten (landscape architects)

A meeting place for all generations where there is always something happening

Surrounded by the urban exuberance of Düsseldorf, the capital of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, is the Münsterplatz square, located on one of the main access routes to the city centre.

The Münsterplatz was originally designed as a straightforward children's playground. Extensive impact attenuation sites filled with sand, various forms of climbing equipment and well-tended flower beds formed its main features. Surrounded by substantial vegetation, the central recreation areas began to go downhill as  their use by children for play successively declined over time.

There were also extensive problems with the playground because of its exposure to the urban traffic. It directly abuts on roads on all four sides meaning that there is considerable noise pollution; the racket produced by cars, trams and increasing goods deliveries does not provide for a comfortable and calming atmosphere.

 

There is a price to be paid for living in an urban environment

Yet the central location of this site acts as a magnet for a steady stream of people searching for rest, stimulation, entertainment, exercise and relaxation.

In order to meet these needs, the Münsterplatz was redesigned using a concept that involved the diagonal bisection of this rectangular site. Granite-coloured, large format concrete paving now extends across the formerly flanking pavement to the edge of the Münsterstraße, directed towards the existing shopping arcade. The result is a small, compact but very exposed city plaza. A market is held here on two days of every week where produce from the local region is sold, bringing a welcome touch of colour to the urban environment.

Opposite this is a tree plaza with a surfacing of loose gravel and multiple connecting footpaths that invites users to linger under the thick canopy formed by the branches of the sycamores and chestnut trees. At its tip, bordering on the city plaza, there is a play area covered by sand with tall play boxes where children can play and let off steam.  

Separated as they are from each other, these areas are linked only by surface-flush bands of large format concrete paving that, with their anthracite-colouring, contrast with the neighbouring areas without forming spatially dominant edging. The large site is thus provided with an integrated and coherent overall effect.    

 

The diagonal

A diagonal axis formed by a prominent row of paving stones and lighting masts that extends to under the leafy canopy and an elongated double-sided bench divide the site into two: open, conspicuous and paved on the side facing the shopping street - diverse, loosely surfaced and cosy on the side next to residential housing. This diagonal arrangement ensures that the pavement of the Münsterstraße (for which the square is named) extends as it were naturally into the site, where there is shelter from the noise and bustle of the constant traffic.

The diagonal originates from a pergola constructed from rounded steel pylons. The Mikado stick-like pylons support an extensive roof of angled, upright sections that forms the 'gateway to the city'. This houses private bicycles and the city-bikes that can be hired everywhere in Düsseldorf.     

 

The city plaza

The section that is open to the roadway is characterised by its extent and multifunctionality. The finely finished surface of the paving provides a solid, comfortable and suitable basis for a variety of activities. From the recently instituted markets to the opening ceremony of the annual funfair, the site brings life into the whole neighbourhood, preserving traditions and providing new business opportunities. The entrance to the bunker that has been refurbished in 'orange crate' form is at the point of crossover between market and adjacent play towers. These are at the southernmost tip of the site and give it its characteristic appearance.

On the days when no market is being held, passersby and people out for a stroll dominate the area. Deep within the space, the diagonally orientated elongated bench with its wooden seating offers these the opportunity to rest and relax where they can observe the goings-on on either hand thanks to the fact that it is double-sided. In the afternoons, when children cruise the site on their cycles and roller boots, this public plaza becomes a theatre in which the bench functions as the dress circle.    

 

The playground

On the other side of the long bench, at the back of the public plaza, is a small and compact sand-covered area with high play towers. These were specially developed in consultation with the manufacturer and adapted to local requirements. With its orange-coloured walls made of robinia wood, this play town reflects the contiguous linear development and forms the margin of the plaza where it meets the residential road. It offers playable rooms in which children can indulge their imagination. Children of different age groups can here play, experiment, climb and slide together. The various access routes and connecting gangways, such as a suspended bridge, climbing net and ladder, add to the excitement of play. Considerable worth was placed on ensuring that the structure was open and easily negotiable to reduce the risk of accidents during use. The surface of the natural wood is pleasant to the touch and always feels warm and dry.  Low rooms under the towers can be used as temporary refuges and play niches. On the exposed sand surfaces, the youngest children can play with shovels, pails and moulds, always in clear view of their parents seated on the long bench.

                                                      

The tree plaza

While the playground, full as it is of animation and activity, has a definite public atmosphere, the tree plaza with its covering of loose gravel is a space where it is possible to find respite from the urban commotion. One traditional element of the site has been retained in the form of the original stone fountain, a familiar and popular feature. The gently babbling water emphasises the tranquillity here and in the heat of summer, this place becomes a focal point for those looking to find shade and cool their hands and feet.

The sunny western side of the Münsterplatz is the ideal spot for a row of individual benches. The white rose bushes against a background of hawthorn hedges emphasize the park-like nature of this section of the site. This area is predominantly used by the elderly and senior citizens to rest, read a newspaper or simply have a chat with their neighbour.

 

The gateway to the city

The main feature of the site where it faces a busy intersection is an anthracite-coloured steel pergola. The roof of this 'gateway to the city' is made of rectangular sections resting on poles that are four to six metres in height. While the sloping pylon-like supports with their rounded profile reflect the design of the nearby lighting masts, the roof with its straight lines is deliberately open and distinctive. As the gateway to the city, it is an urban element that shields with the aid of minimal resources the more contemplative seating area from the discordant road traffic without creating restrictive barriers. Openness and transparency here preserve the overview and provide for security.

Almost incidentally and mundanely as it seems, the pergola serves as a depot where one can return or hire one of the popular city bikes.

 

The lighting concept

When the sun goes down, a row of diagonally positioned light masts below the branches of the stand of mature trees bathe the public plaza in bright light. The orange façades of the play town are transformed into a colourful backdrop while the tree plaza further back remains in darkness.

Now the site is brought to life by those who come out after dark - young roller skaters and skateboarders (and the occasional courting couple).       

There is always something happening here.

 

Photo: ST Freitraum Landschaftsarchitekten

 

 

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