L’Akabane – Playing in the tightest of spaces in the city centre

Petra Meyer-Deisenhofer (city of Lausanne)

L’Akabane – Playing in the tightest of spaces in the city centre

Starting point

More and more people are attracted by major cities whereas the affordable housing is still missing, as well as the relevant and suitable areas for new buildings. Despite the fact that building skyscrapers helps to save space, also extensions could be built, gaps between buildings could be closed, courtyards could be used and disused buildings could be made available. However, the relevant densification is discussed critically due to various reasons.

Some playgrounds, for instance, could also fall victim to the densification. Based on this worrying situation, many city administrations are now searching for solutions which include ample opportunities to play.

Before the company Kukuk started creating the so-called Kukuk Play Container, the question had to be solved of how to create a mobile playground for crisis areas, such as refugee camps, hospitals or slums, which could be set up quickly and used at various locations. Furthermore, they had to consider that the play area should be economically and ecologically sound and characterised by a high level of sustainability while at the same time being functional and fulfilling aesthetic demands. The result was an ingenious concept of using high-quality and sustainable materials to attract both children and youngsters and invite them to climbing, sliding and balancing to help them train their motor skills, mobility, strength, endurance and coordination. And all this on very little space without foundations and ready for use practically everywhere.

 

The city centre of Lausanne as a role model

In Lausanne, a town on Lake Geneva, it is shown how the so-called play container can be used, not only in crisis areas.

Lausanne has 145,000 inhabitants. There are approximately one hundred playgrounds of different sizes – from large theme playgrounds on the lakeside to several playgrounds in the districts.

However, there are only few playgrounds and play opportunities for children in the densely populated city centre and it starts getting cramped in this district.

Based on this situation it was in 2016, when a motion was submitted to the city council aiming at making the city centre (pedestrian zones) more attractive for families (also by taking into account the retail shops). The idea was to build playgrounds in the midst of the city.

Thus, the question was raised on how to create attractive play areas in such confined conditions? After an in-depth examination of the available grounds, it turned out that it is almost impossible to build a traditional firmly installed playground in the city centre because of the increasing pressure to use the space available for instance for the weekly markets, various city events and due to doubts regarding monumental protection.

Furthermore, Lausanne is heavily influenced by its topography and there are only few even surfaces. Thus, other solutions were required, such as multifunctional furniture or climbable art objects.

Hence, in 2017 a play container was bought with the plan to place it test-wise for six months on two sites in the pedestrian precinct (three months each). One clear benefit was that no fix ground anchorage was necessary to install the play container which could then be removed without leaving any traces.

It was in July 2017 when the first box was installed in Place Grand-St-Jean. However, it had unfortunately to be removed only three weeks later as the local residents and the owners of adjacent shops had complained about the children's noise.

Nevertheless, the families with children had enthusiastically adopted the new idea.

Although at the next location there were also complaints, the mobile playground stayed there for three months.

Thereafter, the municipal administration of Lausanne finally purchased the play container. Since then the play container has been moved from place to place. At each place it stays for approximately three months which is the maximum period without building permit.

The play container has meanwhile been set up at several places of the city centre but also on different local squares, at a school without play area as well as at the yacht harbour and in a park without playground.

 

Conclusion

It has turned out to be difficult to find appropriate spaces of only 100 sqm in Lausanne. The closer to downtown, the more difficult it becomes.

However, to install or remove the play box, the access by truck with a crane in safe distance from the road traffic must be guaranteed. Due to the noise pollution, the play box must not be placed in the midst of residential areas. In addition, all forthcoming events of the possible place must be taken into account as well as building sites and possible objections from the office for monumental protection, etc.

Meanwhile the play box has been colourfully decorated (this project has been realised jointly with a graphic designer) and equipped with lockable roller blinds as well as with four simple wooden benches which are made from angularly sawn tree trunks. They serve as seating facilities and space dividers. Furthermore, the play container has received an official name: "L'Akabane"(French: la cabane = the hut).

However, each relocation of the play container is organised by the city administration and lasts one full day. For each relocation three trucks of the road construction office, which is responsible for the installation and removal as well as for the transportation of the container, are needed. In addition, two carpenters from the parks department were there when the first test installation was realised by the Kukuk company and could thus learn how to install the container.

At night, all blinds of the play container located in the city centre must be closed by an officially mandated security company. In the morning, it is the staff of the street cleaning office to open them again, carry out a quick check and clean the container. The security control as such is carried out by specifically trained staff of the parks department according to EN 1176.

After approximately two years of experience, the city administration of Lausanne can say that the game structure was generally well received by families and nurseries as the playing quality on a relatively small place is excellent.

At spacious squares there are no noise problems. Spaces with many passers and additional activities (such as the weekly market, bus stops and shops...) are the most frequented play container sites.

However, it is of utmost importance to consider in advance at which places the play container could be set up and to inform the population accordingly. The city of Lausanne, for instance, positions signs and distributes brochures by thus informing the population about the installation time and where the play container will be set up next time.

It is probably fair to say that the play container provides a certain attraction factor and revitalises the respective locations like, for example, in the case of a little attractive square in one of the districts where the local residents are now pleading for a permanent playground to be installed.

Even now l'Akabane is well-known in the whole city and very popular. In addition, the city administration of Lausanne receives frequent inquiries from different districts which would also like to have it.

 

Photos: Company KuKuk Freiflug GmbH
Text: Petra Meyer-Deisenhofer, Bernhard Hanel

 

 

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