Play and sport in Sotchi Olympic Park

By Dr. Chloé Zirnstein, Richter Spielgeräte GmbH

Play and sport in Sotchi Olympic Park

In the words of the educator Maria Montessori: "The function of the environment is not to form the child but to enable him to develop independence in all areas." A concept very similar to this is shared by the playground equipment manufacturer Richter Spielgeräte based in Frasdorf in Bavaria. It considers the provision of areas in which children can play as a social necessity. At the core of Richter's corporate philosophy is the belief that, in order to able to develop their personalities, children need to be able to play and that even young people and adults will benefit significantly if they are given the opportunity to play. "We always place the greatest emphasis on providing maximum play value when we create new equipment. Our objective is to ensure that our play options offer not only extensive challenges but are such that users continue to find them attractive, creating a situation in which an underlying compulsion to use them develops. In addition, our equipment is designed to promote the development of capabilities in children and to bolster their social and motor skills. At the same time, however, it is essential that children can become fully engrossed during play so we primarily try to ensure that our equipment will provide them with fun and pleasure," explains Richter's director, Julian Richter.

Play must be perceived as an indispensable part of a child's life. Children must be encouraged to play as it is through play that they learn about themselves and can discover their environment. The more extensive the scope of play options that are provided for them, the greater is the chance that they will be able to realise their potential to the full. While it is true that, over the years, the range of things that are likely to trigger the willingness to play have changed, the various phases of human development that are associated with particular play needs have remained the same. Play is a universal factor which, like a leitmotif, has a role in nearly all aspects of life. And, as a consequence, play, adventure and activity facilities are provided for people of all age groups. Of course, this is also associated with the desire to bring young and older people together so that they can interact harmoniously with each and with their environment while, at the same time, preserving their individuality.

There are various large and small projects that provide evidence of this concept in action. The design and features of the playground in Sotchi Olympic Park in Russia exemplify this outlook. During the preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, an extensive amusement park for families was created on the Black Sea coast at the foot of the Caucasus Mountains. The park is made up of five different sectors; an Avenue of Lights, the Land of Heroes, an Enchanted Forest, a Science and Fantasy Land and an Eco Village. Located on the extensive grounds among the other features are three Richter-designed playgrounds that are based on the themes 'Jungle', 'Eco Village' and 'Experimentation'. The purpose and aim of these playgrounds is to encourage families and particularly children to take time out from the other countless attractions within the park and to develop and try out their own play ideas.

The main elements of the 'Jungle' playground are the wide range of balancing structures and a climbing forest. Frequent sights in the ‘Eco Village’, on the other hand, are fathers riding on rafts or pumping water together with their children. Here you can also construct dams and give your self-built boat a try out. There are various play houses for younger children where they can play hide-and-seek or take refuge if it all gets too much. The big and little visitors to the 'Experimentation' playground are able to explore physical phenomena, such as reflections, sounds and vortices and can even discover what effect centrifugal forces can have on their own bodies.

These play and exercise facilities that generate numerous stimuli are provided here in Sotchi in the form of a largely sustainable recreational site on which young and old can indulge in their own self-determined types of play.

To make sure that a playground will be used over the long term, it is essential to ensure that users are themselves free to design their own activities. It is through play that children come to understand the world and they will play at all times and everywhere. And yet, when it comes to play, children are being increasingly confined to specifically provided spaces that have been designed and built by adults; this means that playgrounds have become the most important play environments for children. If sufficient creativity and care is employed in their design, these can also become significant play and recreational hubs for older children and young people. Playgrounds are also replacements for the former, natural play arenas that are no longer available. It is becoming progressively unappealing and even impossible to allow children to discover the surroundings of their home on their own or play on the street and in other public areas ‒ it is thus crucial that we pay particular attention to the design of designated play and exercise sites. The best playgrounds are those that "take into account the needs of those who will subsequently be using the spaces in question and place greater weight on this factor than on aesthetic and artistic considerations and the desire of the designer to see his plans realised," points out Julian Richter.

Sadly, the reverse is all too often the case. A standardised approach is taken to the construction of playgrounds and these frequently are not appropriate to the holistic requirements of children. There is no doubt that children enjoy climbing, sliding, balancing and swinging ‒ but they want to do this in their own way, go on a journey of discovery and nourish their imagination through role-playing games. The quality of a playground is not alone determined by the equipment on offer; the design of the space itself must also be carefully thought through and nooks where children can take rest and develop role play must be provided. In order to encourage children to be themselves creative, play sites must provide them with freedom when it comes to deciding what to do and this means that the play and exercise options must be such that they can be used flexibly and in accordance with individual inclinations. A playground that is to have a viable future must not only offer equipment that can be used for sliding and swinging but that can also be employed for diverse other purposes, purposes that each child can interpret as they wish. Designed spaces should retain as much of their natural quality as possible and provide room for imagination and modification so that play can always take different forms.

Relevant in this context is the above-mentioned need to allow children to develop naturally ‒ a need that all too frequently conflicts with the stipulations of regulations and standards. The artificial environment of the playground can evoke in children the belief that the outside world is just as safe as their play world. A child that is always prevented from hurting itself will never learn to assess risk. If children are safeguarded against all possible hazards, they will be denied an important range of experience without which they will find it difficult to adequately orientate themselves outside circumscribed and artificially created play areas. In Julian Richter's view, play equipment with future viability is such that "makes children strong and helps them assert themselves in a world in which it is being made more difficult for them to prepare themselves to master problematic situations. This is because they are unable to develop the necessary characteristics as they are increasingly overprotected and not allowed to expose themselves to risk."


Image: Richter Spielgeräte

<< back