The 'Lizardland' adventure playground in Rathenow

By Axel Klapka and Torsten Wolff (k1 Landschaftsarchitekten
Kuhn Klapka GmbH)

The 'Lizardland' adventure playground in Rathenow

A gigantic lizard, partly buried in the old Kiekeberg quarry, a 32-metre slide that leads to a 'clutch of eggs' with water playground, 'skin scales' that serve as climbing pedestals on a south-facing slope - all discreetly integrated in the natural surroundings and supplemented by a picnic site and a catering outlet; an ingenious play landscape with considerable didactic value has been created to mark the 2015 Havel Region Federal Garden Show.

Located to the south of the centre of the town of Rathenow is the Weinbergpark that has undergone renovation to provide one of the venues for the 2015 Havel Region Federal Garden Show. A special feature of the Weinbergpark is the heritage-protected Bismarck Tower constructed in 1914. In the direct vicinity of the tower is an old gravel pit in a protected location that was used for the industrial quarrying of sand and gravel in the 19th and 20th centuries.

This now picturesque site surrounded by mature trees is up to 17 metres deep and covers an area of some 7600 m2; the proposal was to convert it into an adventure playground that could be used by all ages.

The winning concept for this project was found by means of a tender procedure in which teams consisting of planners and landscape architect firms competed. The requirement was that the playground should initially provide a unique highlight for those attending the 2015 Havel Region Federal Garden Show. Thereafter, it was to serve as an attraction that would draw visitors from the whole local region.

Working in collaboration with the playground equipment manufacturer Zimmer.Obst, our landscape architecture bureau (k1 Landschaftsarchitekten) based in Berlin developed and constructed a large scale sculpture system that not only provided play and exercise opportunities throughout the whole former quarry site but also created a unique personality for the venue. Together with the permanent refreshment facility located near the Bismarck Tower, the required transregional recreational attraction was thus put in place.

Our approach took as its main theme the sustainable protection of the environment and of species diversity using the sand lizard that is indigenous to the region as our core motif. We also took into account characteristics of the specific habitat favoured by the sand lizard, such as exposed areas of sand, places that would provide shelter or opportunities for sunbathing, and carefully assimilated these into the landscape design.

The natural topography of the sandy depression especially helped with the realisation of our concept: the surrounding, variously inclined escarpments are in appearance similar to the body of a gigantic sand lizard. Individual 'body parts' emerging from slopes have been modelled to provide oversized, imposing play elements that will enable young and old to exercise to their hearts' content in this unique 'Lizardland'.

Our primary objective was to incorporate the various play elements in the topography to ensure that they blended perfectly with the existing landscape structures and the essentially natural scenery.

 

Basic concept

Our intention was to create play and exercise facilities that would promote optimum physical development and support learning among children. One particular emphasis was on enabling children to develop risk-related skills; in other words, they were to be confronted with situations that would allow them to actively explore physical hazards and to discover how to overcome challenges through play.

In order to counteract the lack of physical exercise among many of today's children and the corresponding deficit in motor skills, we placed a focus on providing opportunities for active play. In order to ensure that users would exercise the body as a whole, we designed simple balancing apparatus, more complex rope and climbing combinations together with multifunctional play spaces and sunken trampolines.

Another of our aims was to facilitate social interaction - to encourage users to play with each other. For this purpose, we avoided installing standard monofunctional play equipment that users could routinely deal with in sequence; instead, we made paths cross and combined the options for possible role play to ensure that new play situations would continuously arise. Our playground has thus not simply been designed to meet children's conventional needs for sliding, swinging, jumping and so on but has supplemented these with components that bolster interaction with others and offer thematic inspiration.

In the case of the various individual areas and elements, we took special care to provide spaces in which cross-generational activities would be possible and also integrated unobtrusive places that can be used for relaxation and refuge. There are also several interconnected play stations whose elaborate and innovative design is intended to encourage young and old to together experiment, explore, play and learn.

The play equipment has been deliberately arranged so that each item not only has its own intrinsic purpose but also to ensure different possible uses emerge in connection with other items or the surroundings. The principal idea is that the active transition from one to another and the incorporation of the play equipment in the natural surroundings will promote the expansion of play to other nearby areas, inspire the imagination of the children and thus encourage them to indulge in the intended free-form play. The many extensive escarpments also offer them a wide range of opportunities to discover and enjoy natural play behaviour and at the same time explore the natural world around them.

 

Play stations

Our employment of the colossal lizard theme can be illustrated by several skilfully designed unique play stations that can be used in sequence. Their size means that when children are inside them they can adapt these spaces to their own individual fantasy worlds that need not necessarily have anything to do with the lizard motif.

The head of the lizard: The head, with its eyes made of stainless steel mesh, is at the core of the various play equipment options. It is the most prominent feature in the sandy hollow and has been constructed as an elaborate play house on several levels with rest zones and hidey holes and also activity spaces, such as crawl pipes, climbing nets, a tunnel slide and moveable elements including wobble boards and belt bridges. Even when the weather is poor, the head can accommodate a larger number of playing children.

Lizard arm: Cables, ropes, suspended rubber membranes and hanging bridges dangle from the arm near the ground and are linked together to form an 'organic' low-level rope course with several difficultly levels.

Lizard scales: Climbable wooden pedestals provide colourful features on the various slopes and connect the larger play stations together to form a whole “body” and thus provide a continuous dexterity course.

Lizard skin: The lizard skin is represented by a climbing system on a south-facing slope made of folded structures with level areas and some more challenging steeply inclined sections. It stretches from the foot to the top of the escarpment and can be climbed using ropes and various climbing aids with reflective surfaces made of GRP and stainless steel.

Lizard leg: The leg is made up of climbing nets and ladders so that a play hut results with swings between the long green toes; it provides an elevated contrast to the head, which it faces.

Skin fold: In order to give visitors arriving from further away the opportunity for relaxation and to improve the quality of their stay, we also decided to add an access route to the refreshment and sanitary facilities to the north. This takes the form of a serpentine stairway with handrails on both sides. It enables visitors to climb up from the valley to a viewing platform near the Bismarck Tower, provides a sunny resting place and also links the entry to the giant slide sited at the top of the escarpment with its outlet at the bottom. The steps and small pedestals wind up the whole of the northern slop and are intended to represent a continuous skin fold of the bent body of the lizard.

Lizard tail: A free-standing, interconnected structure made of horizontally stacked wooden posts of various diameters blocks the access to the unsafe and protected escarpment on the eastern edge of the playground. In terms of the motif, it is a part of the lizard's tail and can also be used by the local lizard population for sunbathing and as a habitat where they can overwinter in its many crannies and lairs.

Clutch of eggs: A clutch of eggs made of GRP that can be climbed or crawled through is the main feature of a play space for younger children. This is supplemented by smaller wooden apparatus, such as balancing beams, pedestals, elevations, climbing ropes and nets. We have covered a more elevated section with inclined wooden boards to allow handicapped children to play in the sand in a prone position without having to exert excessive effort.

Sunbathing area: The sunbathing area is a water playground with water sprays and nozzle jets and provides adequate space to enjoy the sun and splash around. In one section of the lizard's tail, water jets activated by sensors emerge from slits in a folded concrete sculpture, providing a cooling shower when it gets too hot.

Multifunctional posts: In the centre of this unusual and striking lizard landscape there is an empty playing field with posts between which a slackline can be stretched and that encourages users to find partners for a beach volleyball tournament or a game of shuttlecock.

Trampolines: There is a trampoline trail located in the middle of the site that makes this into an area of lively activity and much movement. In terms of the motif, the trampolines represent the potential prey of the lizard.

 

Facilitated accessibility

The play and climbing equipment is of a size to enable adults to accompany children during play and has been designed to make an integrated play experience possible. Depending on the extent and type of their disability, the equipment can also be used by physically handicapped children. The playground, with its diversity of play options and differing difficulty levels, is intended to appeal to a wide range of users in various age groups.

The sandy depression is approached by means of a winding pathway down the side of the eastern escarpment. The water play area, the trampolines and sand pit can be easily and directly accessed from this wide, paved way.

We have made special provision to ensure that the water features can be accessed by those in wheelchairs or who need walking aids. The solid surfaces mean that wheelchair users can move next to the water play elements, such as the fountains and mist spray outlets and cool themselves in the heat of the summer.

 

Image: k1 Landschaftsarchitekten Kuhn Klapka GmbH

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