It feels like playing in Africa

It feels like playing in Africa

It feels like playing in Africa; without putting too much emphasis on decorative elements; a playground connected to the new barrier-free footbridge which is leading through the terrain.Three areas which should arouse children's interest. This is only a rough sketch on the basis of which ZooParc de Beauval wants to develop a new playground area.

 

Zooparc de Beauval, which received an award for being one of the best zoos in Europe, is situated in the heart of France in the Centre Val de Loire region. Since the 1980s, its visitors have been able to observe approximately 8,000 animals in an area of around 35 hectares. In 2015 the ZooParc de Beauval attracted about 1,050,000 visitors.

"Je suis un singe!" Would you prefer to climb like monkeys and practise interesting movements while you are climbing higher and higher, or rather slip into the role of a crocodile looking for prey, which you snap up when jumping off the swing? When the new restaurant was built in the newly developed area of the park, it was also planned to build a new playing area. While the restaurant is situated on a hill, the new playgrounds are located on the terraces below. A barrier-free footbridge gives access to the restaurant. It was a key requirement to include this bridge into the playground concept. At the same time, the playground area can also be accessed via the path beneath the footbridge. The idea was that the playground area should symbolise the African continent. Nevertheless, the zoo managers found it important not to put too much emphasis on decorative elements. It was rather to be a subtly perceptible Africa feeling people should have while they are staying there. Thus, a playground area lined with robinia trees and equipped with a selection of decorative elements, such as some abstract figures symbolising the African continent, minimally hewn post ends and thematically linked game objects, were designed in close cooperation between the playground designers and ZooParc de Beauval.

The playground area is subdivided into three parts: one area for toddlers, one for school-age children and one area which offers particularly challenging games. Each playing area is located on its own "terrace".The toddler area is located above the other two areas and next to the restaurant, close to the accompanying persons. From here, one has a good view of the playing areas below. A low balancing course and low slides offer a lot of movement motivation for the little guests. Although the elements are of low height, they are not too narrow and offer enough room even if several small children are climbing up and down at the same time. In this area, you may even “hear” Africa. Through wooden sound elements, for example, the playing children may call for tribe meetings or alert each other about the lion which is sneaking up from behind.

The playing area at the bottom level invites all school-age children, who are in the majority, to play there. The challenge was to design a concept which allows all children to have fun together and offer them an exciting play experience without there being any conflicts due to long waiting periods or waiting lines in front of the different playground elements. So for example, the central slide has several points of access. Different climbing routes of average difficulty make the route a game. And the stand rocker allows many children to bob up and down together at the same time. Another highlight in this playing area is the multiple swing on which at least four children can swing simultaneously. The wooden beams which support the swing are designed as crocodile heads, again taking up the Africa theme.

The most challenging playground area is the middle-level playground between the two other areas described before. The barrier-free footbridge is exactly above this area and directly connected to the playground. Three high-built African-style huts around the bridge offer several direct ways of approach to the playground. It is possible to either walk over the wobbling bridges to reach the platforms or to climb directly upwards and watch out for "dangerous animals" or just change the perspective and watch the happenings from above.

The access to the playground area on the second level leads the playing children to the climbing route which allows them to climb up to a maximum height of 2.70 metres. Here again, the Africa feeling is clearly perceptible, for example through the climbing wall, which takes up the abstract forms of the top elements mentioned above. Hand-over-hand climbing courses shaped as palm trees, slalom and balancing ropes and bars, some of which with safety lines, provide different kinds of challenges, which are interesting not only for children. The play route is located beneath the barrier-free footbridge. Because of the the hand-over-hand climbing palm trees and the knot ropes the players will feel like monkeys. It is especially the palm trees which inspire special movements one would never experience when just climbing. There are always a lot of people on the footbridge above. Watching others playing seems to be as exciting as observing the animals in the zoo. Periscopes and funnel phones are available for people with disabilities so as to enable them to participate in the on-going happenings.

 

Project implementation

The project was implemented within one year from the initial contact between customer, designer and producing company to the final technical inspection and on-site certification.

ZooParc de Beauval became aware of Kinderland through Kinderland's trade fair presentation. For quite some time, Kinderland and the Dutch designer Gert Eussen (Visual Projects) have been working together on various big thematic playground projects. In recent years, they have been able to implement some joint national and international playground projects in the leisure sector. After an initial inquiry of ZooParc de Beauval, the Managing Director of Kinderland and Gert Eussen went to France together in order to get an impression of the future playground area. In a direct dialogue, some common first ideas were developed, which Kinderland and Mr Eussen subsequently and back in Germany - transformed into a concept with detailed sketches and descriptions. After that they went again to France to present their design concept. After a few improvements, the project moved into its final planning phase and then, finally, into the implementation stage. All playing elements were produced and tested in Germany before they were sent to ZooParc de Beauval where they were installed by Kinderland's experts.

International projects across national boundaries require especially detailed and exact arrangements. Besides, it is important to test the devices in the producer’s own plant in order to find a quick and efficient solution to any problems that may arise. The African game landscape was inspected and certified by the French Technical Inspection Agency and could then be handed over "ready-to-use" to ZooParc de Beauval and its visitors. Once again, the manufacturer and designer came to France to attend the opening ceremony of the new playground. From the footbridge they could have a look at the vivid African scenery which has meanwhile become equally popular with both children and adult visitors.

 

 

Text: Birthe Mallach-Mlynczak (Kinderland Emsland Spielgeräte)

Pictures: Kinderland Emsland Spielgeräte

 

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