A miniature wooden play landscape concealed among prefabricated houses

by Magret Scheerer & Stefanie Wieland (Landschaftsarchitekturb├╝ro Scheerer)

A miniature wooden play landscape concealed among prefabricated houses

A playground with a river-based theme - from mountain stream to lake - in the south of Dresden

On the southern perimeter of the city of Dresden is a residential district called the 'Wohnquartier am Bismarckturm', an estate of prefabricated houses built in the 1980s. It has recently undergone upgrading and is now a pleasantly leafy suburb that has become very popular with Dresden residents looking for quality accommodation. The district owes its name to the nearby 'Bismarck Tower' - one of the many monuments built across Germany before the Second World War in honour of the nation's first chancellor - and from which there is a splendid view over Dresden. The courtyards between the residential blocks have become veritable green oases. There is a wealth of opportunities to spend time, play sports and games in these protected and hidden sanctuaries.

The renovation of the playground in question was commissioned by the housing association 'Glückauf' Süd Dresden e.G. that manages a large number of properties in south Dresden. Following the extensive refurbishment of the residential structures in the 'Wohnquartier am Bismarckturm', parts of the outdoor areas were also to be tidied up.

The existing wood-based playground in the inner courtyard of the Ludwig-Renn-Allee was getting on in years and certain sections had already undergone repair and replacement. The site itself already had an attractive underlying landscape structure with extensive tree and shrub growth.

 

Objectives/target groups

The task was to revitalise the playground, preserving as much of the natural growth and still serviceable elements and materials as possible, such as the many blocks of stone and boulders, the stainless steel slide and other features.

To ensure a well-balanced overall appearance, the play equipment (to the extent possible in view of health and safety needs) was to be positioned close to the many trees and the existing landscaping effects.

In order to provide a contrast with the surrounding severely geometrical residential structures, it was decided to construct durable play equipment from robinia wood. Play activities that had previously been feasible on the site, such as climbing and sliding, hide-and-seek, role playing and sand games, were to be reinstated on the renovated playground. The idea was to supplement this secretive area with a range of play options that could be individually used and exciting opportunities for concealment, misshapen huts and testing, adventurous climbing features. The nature of the existing site meant that the underlying theme of river course from mountain to valley very soon came to mind.

The target groups - children aged 0 - 6 years and 6 - 12 years living on the estate - were to be offered a wide range of play opportunities and challenges. Also required were a small rest space for parents and residents and a football pitch for the youngest children.

 

Concept

The plan for this miniature landscape provided for 'mountains', a 'valley' and a 'lake' among which the desired play equipment could be positioned in the limited space available, linked together and supplemented by other play features and situations matching the theme. The readily adaptable robinia wood was used to construct numerous play and recreational items suitable for all age groups that could be used for games, climbing, balancing, exercising, trying out skills and simply chilling-out. 

Dedicated to the 6 - 12 years age group were the themed sections 'Mountain stream' and 'Forest' that incorporate a high climbing tower, arched bridge, forest house with slide and driftwood, while the 'Lake' section, with sand pit, boathouse, jetty, rowing boat, fish net and reed bed, was designed for the younger children.

 

Construction

Practical implementation of the concept was undertaken in summer 2016 by the garden and landscape architecture firm KreativGrün. The wooden equipment was designed and constructed by Holzdesign A. Fromme based in East Saxony. The equipment was pre-assembled at the premises of the company and tested for compliance with safety regulations there; some unusual and very attractive objects were created. These were then delivered to the site where they were put together and installed. Precise adaptation of the concepts to the actual on-site situation was repeatedly necessary to avoid damaging the roots of the trees and to comply with the safety stipulations for play equipment and with regard to distances between play equipment. Numerous low walls were rebuilt, sand and fall attenuation gravel surfaces were created and the many boulders, stones and wood items were repositioned. Additional vegetation was added to the existing plants to emphasise the differences between the different landscape sections, including small species of willow and pine, grasses and other flowering shrubs.

 

Description

The section 'mountains with stream and forest' represents the play area designed specifically for children aged 6 - 12 years. The enclosed high climbing tower is positioned on a low earth elevation between trees and is readily visible from afar. The tower has an internal stairway and offers views into the various estate courtyards and a place to play hide-and-seek and role games. A narrow arched bridge enclosed on the sides emerges from the tower, encouraging the more intrepid children to use it to cross the 'mountain stream' below, consisting of gravel between retaining walls, and enter the 'forest house'. This can also be accessed with the help of a narrow climbing beam or through a 'secret entrance' underneath the house. A carved wooden owl hidden in the thick shrubbery greets visitors to the 'forest house'. A slide then brings the visitors down onto the gravel of the 'mountain stream', at the mouth of which a pile of 'driftwood' has gathered. It looks as if it has accumulated there by chance and can be used for climbing, balancing, testing oneself or just resting. The 'stream' that originates from the 'mountain' here empties in to a small 'lake'. This is also the point at which fall attenuation gravel is replaced by sand, and there are various rocks, boulders and tree trunks positioned around the 'lake', which is a generously sized sand pit for young children. There are also various apparently randomly placed items appropriate to the theme that can be discovered and used. In the centre of the 'lake' is a large green frog. An abandoned 'rowing boat' drifts near the 'jetty' where small children can find a hidden creep tunnel, climbing options and a wealth of play details. The shore of the 'lake' is bordered by alternating boulders, blocks, wooden posts and logs that can be used as seats, game elements and for balancing. There is a small 'fishing net' that can be climbed or used for rest. The crooked 'boathouse' has tiny windows, a veranda and jetty and is ideal for play, hide-and-seek, as a seating area and place to mess about with mud. There are various seating options for parents and supervisors in and just outside the sand play area. There is a paved path that brings visitors directly to the sand play area of the 'lake' that is protected by a belt of 'reeds' created from grasses. Concealed among these grasses is a balancing trail.

Positioned near this play area is a small grassed surface on which toddlers can make their first attempts at kicking a ball. There is already a football pitch with goal posts and ball stop fencing nearby for the older children. As the younger children tended to be rather out of place on the larger pitch, a number of local residents expressed the wish to have a small area where the little ones could play ball games. In order to ensure that this feature did not end up also attracting hordes of bigger children, we did not install proper goals with nets but only used posts to mark the goals. There is even a little 'players' bench' where it is possible to take a breather or watch the game.

 

Colour concept

It was requested that the predominant colours of the new playground should be unobtrusive and natural to harmonise with the landscape nature of the attraction and help keep maintenance to a minimum. The features made of untreated robinia wood will very soon assume their characteristic silver-grey colouration. Certain smaller sections of the visible wooden surfaces have also been painted in coordinated colour tones.  The colours green, dark green and beige have been employed in the 'mountain and forest' section for the 6 - 12 year-old children while green, blue and turquoise were chosen for the 'lake' play area for younger children.

In addition to the perennial green of the grass, the ball play area for little children that stands somewhat separately has also been given two team colours. The goals are painted for team red and team blue as is the 'players' bench', while there are also black sections for the referee.

Various carved and painted figures and post caps, such as the owl at the 'forest house', the frog in the 'lake' and post caps representing grass and 'reeds' emphasise the natural character of the site and its themed play areas.

 

Conclusions

An audience of small figures watched the construction work with fascination and were only too ready to take the playground into their possession on its completion. The playground has since been fully accepted by the local community of children. Even young people are attracted to it where they can discover the hidden features and try out the climbing options. Surrounded by greenery and the twittering of birds, immersed in play and exploring the limits to their dexterity, the children probably forget that they are actually in the middle of an extensive housing estate.

 

Photo: Landschaftsarchitektur Dipl.-Ing. Magret Scheerer

 

Further information:

Landschaftsarchitektur

Dipl.-Ing. Magret Scheerer

Krietzschwitz Nr. 2

01796 Pirna

Tel.:  03501 – 792 9606

www.landschaftsarchitektur-scheerer.de

 

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