A dream comes true ‐ a playground in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg

By Dipl. Ing. Kerstin Jablonka, Dipl. Ing. Jörg Bresser (pro garten landschaftsarchitektur)

A dream comes true ‐ a playground in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg

Dreams transport us into other worlds and allow us to escape the everyday. Perhaps what we are doing when we dream is forge plans for the future. But it is not often that the opportunity to make a dream come true is offered - although in this case, the chance to do so was recognised and exploited to the full. In autumn 2010, a new playground called 'Der Traum' - The Dream - was created in the Bötzow area of Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg district, the objective being to create a venue where young and old could play, meet and indulge in daydreams. The landscape architect firm pro garten was commissioned by the local authority of Pankow in Berlin to plan and undertake the project, which was financed through resources available for regulatory measures and urban development.

 

Background and specifications

The corner site extends to 1250 m2 and was a vacant lot otherwise surrounded by structures built prior to the First World War; for decades it was used for storage until it subsequently became a car park. Before it could be adapted for use as a playground, it was necessary to clean the site of previous contamination. The local Office of the Environment and Nature had specified that the playground should be primarily suitable for young people in the age range 12 to 17 years while it would also be desirable to include attractions that would appeal to younger children. Because of the surrounding residential housing, more noisy activities, such as skateboarding and ball games (with the exception of table tennis) were to be excluded.

 

Public consultation

The project was initiated in 2009 by a multiphase public consultation process with the local residents commissioned and supervised by the local redevelopment agency S.T.E.R.N. GmbH. The various institutions for children and young people in the vicinity of the future playground were also invited to participate in the consultations. Participants were encouraged to create models and drawings to formulate their ideas and wishes with regard to the new playground. The concepts were presented at a residents' meeting. Using the ideas submitted, pro garten developed three potential variants for the playground. These draft proposals for the playground with the unconventional names 'The Spider', 'The Dream' and 'The Cell' were discussed in detail with the local young people and adults. All three of the draft proposals put their requests into effect. They wanted the playground to accommodate the activities climbing, exercising, hanging, riding, rolling, turning, rotating, swinging, hopping, balancing and table tennis. It was also to be suitable for social activities, such as sitting, chilling-out, sheltering, and meeting, should provide cross-generational options, be close to nature with plants and be suitable in terms of topography with regard to form and space.

The residents in attendance selected the concept 'The Dream' as the basis for project realisation. The results of this public consultation were reported by the landscape architects back to the local playground committee. But the residents were not only involved in the consultation process; they also participated (particularly the more active young people) in the construction of the playground. There were two 'Action Days' on which, under the supervision of the playground equipment manufacturer, they were able to put the finishing touches to the equipment. Nets were hung, swings were mounted and the final wood elements inserted and screwed in place. The planting was also undertaken with the help of the local residents - willow cuttings were put in the ground and protective fencing put around them.

All in all, the collaboration with the residents and future users of the playground was excellent from the initial consultation phase right through to completion of the construction project.

 

The concept

The main themes adopted for the draft proposal 'The Dream' were confrontation with the future and dreams of young people. There are spaces where users can withdraw to relax and think about their future. And there are other areas where they can be active and see if they really can make their dreams come true. 'Thought bubbles' and 'dreamcatchers' are thus significant features of the plan. A winding paved path connects the two entrances of the playground on the streets that border the corner site. On the boundaries of the playground are trees, robust shrubs that can also be used in games, bushes and ground-covering plants. The pathway divides the area into a northern section for younger children and a southern section for the older children. Implanted in the paving are 'thought bubbles' with differing shapes and purposes. Around this runs the climbing jungle, with the equipment for climbing and balancing, the so-called 'dreamcatcher path'.

  • The 'thought bubbles'

The 'thought bubbles' are circular formations of differing sizes and heights made of rubber granulate. Positioned on one of these that is flush with the ground is a table tennis table. Extending into another circle is a cone shape with oblique cut-off that rises to a height of 80 cm. Those who want to observe the activities on the playground tend to gather here. There is a third circle that is 30 cm in height. Three circular floor trampolines are integrated in this rubber granulate 'hill'. To the north of these three circles is a circular sand pit that is surrounded by a paved surface on which are benches. Further seating is provided here in the form of beams on which you can sit or practice your balancing skills.

  • The 'dreamcatchers'

The dreamcatcher path is a climbing trail that extends over the whole playground. Fall attenuation material (wood chippings) covers the ground here. The dreamcatcher path consists of wooden pedestals between which are spanned various vertical and horizontal nets, net bridges, net tunnels and ropes. There are vertically hung metal hoops with nets intended to represent the actual 'dreamcatchers'. Other hoops mounted between pedestals have inserted net baskets that can be used as raised seats. Curving planks that run between the pedestals invite users to try out their balancing skills. A hut with an off-set cone-shaped roof is also integrated in the climbing trail. The seating elements incorporated in the wooden edging above the ground make this a meeting place for young people. The climbing trail for younger children begins at the sand pit with a basket swing between two pedestals. There are climbing beams and a horizontal net that lead to the paved surface where the climbing trail for the bigger children commences that terminates at the trampolines.

 

Play value and accessibility

The equipment is primarily targeted at older children and young people and is appropriate to the needs of both girls and boys. The activities on offer are jumping (trampolines), movement and dexterity (table tennis), climbing and balancing (dreamcatcher path) and swinging (rope swing) but there are also places where it is possible to just rest, look around and chat with others (net seats, the hill, the hut). The playground provides a space for continuity in the playing process. The climbing trail - the dreamcatcher path - can be followed along its whole length without having to touch the ground. And there are plenty of places to rest, observe and gossip. The whole playground is fully accessible, even for those with disabilities. There are no steps at the entrances and these have swing gates. The slightly elevated sections (trampolines and hill) abut the paved area at the same level.

 

Materials

The concept conforms to the required high quality of design and construction while also representing value for money. The equipment designed in collaboration with the wood engineering firm Tilman Stachat Holzgestaltung is robust and requires little maintenance. The support posts are made of naturally grown, non-splintering robinia that are supported in steel post anchors. The planking and balancing beams are made of oak. All the wooden surfaces have been coated on the sides with water-soluble acrylic paint. There are colourful net structures and ropes with stainless steel hoops to round off the appearance.

Concrete tiles in two different formats have been used for the paved areas. Pathways are at least 2.5 metres in width and thus easily negotiated with a baby buggy.

Play areas are covered by either rubber granulate surfaces with and without fall attenuation material, wood chips and sand.

The greenery around the playing area is low-maintenance and can even be used for games. Dotted among the willow-planted sections are islands of miscanthus. Red maple, Himalayan birch with its shiny white bark and bushes of edible rowan provide contrasting accents among the green and provide shade to the play zones.

 

Conclusions

It was possible to systematically realise the project from first draft to final completion. In this densely populated residential area, the playground is still a favourite gathering place seven years after being constructed. Most of the children and young people who participated in its creation have since outgrown it. But for the coming generations, the playground will continue to represent a sustainable and entertaining attraction.

 

Photo: Pro Garten Landschaftsarchitektur

 

Further information:

pro garten Landschaftsarchitektur

Langenscheidtstraße 3

10827 Berlin

Tel: 030 / 214 589 91  

www.progarten-berlin.de

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