Fire-brigade themed playground offers climbing experiences for various age groups

By Iris Dupper (Latz+Partner LandschaftsArchitektur Stadtplanung)

Fire-brigade themed playground offers climbing experiences for various age groups

The Heidelberg "Fire Brigade" children's playground is part of the public green space known as the Promenade in the new Bahnstadt district which has grown up on redeveloped former railway yards. The 1.5-kilometre Promenade is laid out in linear fashion, taking as its reference point the former use of the goods and shunting yard and with topography reminiscent of that. The "Fire Brigade" playground is one of three themed playgrounds (together with the "Railway" and "Farm" themed areas) that have been built along the Promenade. It was opened in April 2014 and is in visual and spatial reach of the new Heidelberg fire station completed in 2007. From the playground, children and youngsters between the age of two and 14 can watch the comings and goings of real-life fire engines. This direct spatial relationship allows this playground to continue the "Fire Brigade" theme and combine it with a linear spatial concept in the form of an exercise circuit of varying levels of difficulty to enhance motor skills. The playground fire engine offers spaces and challenges for creative play for children and youngsters of all ages.

The total cost was around EUR 270,000.

 

Criteria for material characteristics

The cuboid design of a red-painted fire engine with flashing lights, ladder, bell and oversized emergency services number 112 is stylised in spatially separate sequences by means of exposed concrete wall panels. Applying the "Fire Brigade" theme, movement is stimulated within this static basic structure. Children and youngsters can deploy their fine motor skills as they play along a climbing circuit that has multiple summits and descents. Inside the various sequences, there are wooden fittings along the climbing circuit in the form of ramps, platforms and ladders, complemented by ropes, nets and climbing aids made from plastic, as well as additional stainless steel structures in the form of rungs, bars, tubes and slides. These reference activities in the real working world of fire service personnel.

When it came to selecting the materials, robustness was a priority. At the same time, wood was chosen to create a welcoming atmosphere inviting those present to stay and enjoy themselves and engage in role play. Outside the fire engine, there are also seated areas for parents and accompanying adults with wooden benches covered by steel shading.

 

Description and criteria of the planting concept

The choice of trees and plants is governed by the overall vegetation concept for the Promenade. This envisages Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris) and stone pines (Pinus pinea) in the area of the "Fire Brigade" playground, intended to be trained into parasol-like panoplies by means of formative pruning. To the east, mimosas (Albizia julibrissin) with their feathery, compound leaves frame the area up to the old signal box, exploiting to the full the specific climatic characteristics of Heidelberg. Two fig trees (Ficus carica) have been planted within the play area with the intention that they should grow into climbing trees. Their strikingly lobed leaves contrast with the conifers and exude a specific aroma when the sun shines. Hedges of rosemary leaf willow (Salix rosmarinifolia) emphasise the linear structure of the playground and provide it with a spatial framework. Further spaces are created by linear beds of spear grass (Achnaterum calamagrostis). For the planting scheme too, robustness and ease of maintenance were a major consideration, as was the use of shrubs and trees that are of ecological value for the animal wildlife, with leaves in a variety of colours and shapes, and seasonal flowering times appropriate to the specific microclimate.

 

Space creation criteria

Subdivision of the play area – zoning components – nook and cranny creation – modelling:

The basic linear structure reminiscent of the track layout acts as a spatial dominant for the overall concept "Public space of Heidelberg Bahnstadt" (Latz+Partner). In the area around the "Fire Brigade" playground, located next to the Promenade pedestrian and cycle path, this is articulated by a concrete seat step running parallel to the Promenade but located 40 cm lower, as well as by paths, planted areas and play areas running parallel to it. Furniture elements, such as the segments of the fire engine, as well as wooden ramps under a roof shade in the form of a steel pergola, are integrated in this linear ordering and serve to emphasise the genius loci.

In the immediate vicinity of and overlooked by the seating, small children have a sandpit area they can play in. As well as offering great potential for climbing and play activities, the fire engine also has a plethora of nooks and crannies and interior spaces for role playing, e.g. near the slides, platforms and wooden elements. The play and interior space areas are separated by paths, hedges and various timber fittings.

To the south side of the play area is the start of an ecological compensation area in the form of a band of crushed stone with sandy areas and layers of timber designed to aid the ecological interaction of fauna and flora between the city's districts. This includes a barrier made of steel bars with a tubular railing.

 

Relationship between play area and surroundings – connection with adjoining area

The "Fire Brigade" playground forms part of the 1.5-kilometre Promenade and also the cycle path that interconnects the various city districts. Via the interconnecting Promenade, the playground is linked with two other playgrounds ("Railway", "Farm"). Towards the north, residential estates (sustainable passive houses) directly adjoin the Promenade. To the south, the environmental strip and interconnecting area offers an Eldorado for lizards and various insect species, for instance, as well as providing, in spatial terms, an impassable escarpment to a path, two to three metres below, that allows access to open fields.

 

District development

The aim behind developing the new Bahnstadt district of Heidelberg was to provide a system, covering the entire area, that would promote social and cultural life and involve the residents of the district in their surroundings. In parallel with the construction of roads, houses, squares and similar open areas, the idea was to enable a sustainable culture of everyday social interaction to develop. The various themed play areas dotted around, of which the "Fire Brigade" children's playground was the first to be completed, make a key contribution within this process. The creation of neighbourhoods and a sense of identity was intended to make it easier for residents to get used to their surroundings and find their way about in a new environment with few mature structures. Playgrounds like the fire brigade playground therefore play an important role in ensuring a thriving social community and promoting resident initiatives in a socially and culturally active urban district.

 

Planning process

The initial concept for the "Fire Brigade" playground by Latz+Partner is based on the Public Space Concept (Konzept Öffentlicher Raum (KÖR 2005)), which was also drawn up by Latz+Partner. The KÖR is part of the framework plan commissioned by the City of Heidelberg and drawn up in 2005. The preliminary draft and the final design, as well as further services, were produced and finalised on behalf of the Entwicklungsgesellschaft Heidelberg (EGH) in consultation with and to the specifications of the Landscape and Forestry Office of the City of Heidelberg. Faktorgrün from Heidelberg drew up the landscaping plan (LP4-8).

Because the district is completely new and, at the time of planning, was still without residents, no children were able to participate in the process. However, those with responsibility for children in neighbouring districts were involved, as they were in very close and active contact with the children of their own district.

 

Summary

 "We are delighted with the award won by the Heidelberg fire brigade playground. On completion, the playground in the Bahnstadt district immediately triggered a wave of playground tourism, as it offers climbing experiences for various age groups. The fire brigade theme motivates children to play in creative ways," said City Mayor Wolfgang Erichson about the award. The Heidelberg "Fire Brigade" children's playground had achieved 1st place in the "Spielraum Prize 2017" competition. The competition jury characterises the fire brigade playground as a "bold combination of materials with creative play opportunities". In its description of the playground, the jury writes: "The concept and material make-up of the furniture is based on the real-life world of work of fire service personnel and consists of a successful combination of different levels, ramps and platforms. According to the jury, it is not just "the striking red outer shell made from exposed concrete bearing the word 'Feuerwehr' (Fire Brigade) and the emergency services number" that make the playground so distinctive. It is also the fact that it is in the "direct vicinity of a fire station and creatively integrated in a green corridor". 

 

The "Fire Brigade" playground covers a surface area of 735 square metres. It cost EUR 270,000 to build, corresponding to a price per square metre of EUR 367.35. By comparison, construction of the "Public Open Space Bahnstadt Heidelberg 1.BA Promenade" involves a total area of 19,149 square metres.

 

 

Photo: © Latz+Partner

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