Play without limits

by Daniela Saxer, dipl. Arch ETH SIA, Raum B Architektur und Gestaltungskonzepte GmbH

Play without limits

As a boarding and day school for children with multiple disabilities, the remedial pedagogic centre in Hagendorn (Heilpädagogische Zentrum Hagendorn) makes special requirements on its outdoor facilities. Children in wheelchairs need free access to the whole playground area and all its equipment, while other children require physical challenges and animation to sound out and experience their physical limits. Reshaping the garden to form a playground which would offer every individual child a wide range of experience was not to be achieved by simply replacing single items of play equipment, but required a focussed structuring of the whole complex.

Different paths as a challenge

The original garden area, characterised by a grass lawn with individual items of play equipment, has today been restructured to give three generous levels of playing space which represent different play and experience topics. These levels are interconnected by differently constructed paths, all with the basic principle: the shorter, the more difficult. Short cuts motivate the children to climb over large stones to reach the slide, or to pass through a line of bushes on a moving catwalk. The longest path, passing through all three play levels, leads from the edge of the hill down to the swimming pool. Particular care was taken to vary this wheelchair-accessible path with different materials such as chequered steel plate, drawn metal bars and a rocking floor section, in order to make the path itself and its materials into a playing and learning object in its own right. The most direct path from the playground into the garden leads over a wooden walkway. This curved ramp passes first through shrubs and hazelnut bushes allowing children in wheelchairs to feel as if they are moving through tree tops. Near the wooden pavilion the ramp widens into a platform in the shape of a butterfly which provides a birds-eye view of the whole play area, before leading down a further wide curve to reach the lowest playing level.

A childlike design

This is the core zone of the pavilion which is used as meeting place and constitutes an orientation point for the whole complex. It is protected from sun and rain by awnings which create a pleasant recreation and play atmosphere, has a very right-angular structure and provides a surface for the simple attachment of various pieces of equipment such as a climbing wall, nets, a bowling alley or lengths of cloth. This does not change the basic structure so that the pieces of equipment can be changed or new pieces introduced without questioning the building and complex as a whole.
As the pavilion is exposed to all weather conditions throughout the year and must withstand the particularly damp winter months common in this region, special attention was paid to the protective coating and quality of the building timber used. Impregnation of the timber was not feasible as this method is costly, requires a great deal of maintenance work and needs to be repeated every couple of years. For this reason, only timber from Swiss mountain larch trees, grown at altitudes higher than 1200 m above sea level, was used. This wood has a very fine structure and is extremely resistant to warping. The supporting cross-sections are constructed on lamellae measuring 50x150mm. These only touch as certain points and are joined together by threaded rods. This makes the structure very open and well aired which increases the durability and permanency of the whole building. The construction has the appearance of being built by children and, thanks to its intermediate spaces, produces interesting play between shadow and light.
Below in the playing levels, the underside of the curved ramp can also be seen. A number of wide and apparently randomly placed round supports create a room underneath the wooden pathway which suddenly also forms a roof. Here again, protective coating of the timber played a decisive role in the design of the wooden structure. In a very similar way to the pavilion, it is characterised by small cross-sections which are freely suspended. The round timber supporting posts have a diameter of 80mm and can be grasped well by small children's hands.
The 12% gradient of the steepest part of the ramp represents a challenge and a method had to be found of preventing it being slippery when the wood becomes wet. An initial idea of rubber strips was rejected as they would be very bumpy and unpleasant for wheelchair occupants. In specially carried out weathering tests the application of strips of adhesive covered in sand and a layer of rubber granulate were tested. Both alternatives proved to be insufficiently durable and would have required a great deal of maintenance work. Finally, the simplest alternative was used – wooden battens without any kind of anti-slip cover. The battens have a maximum width of 60 mm so that the children's feet are always supported by at least two to three pieces and cannot slip between them. As the battens are laid at right angles to the wheels of a wheelchair, it was possible to leave a gap of 15mm between them. These dimensions meant that the wooden battens already provided a relatively non-slip surface by themselves and weathering of the battens made them even less slippery. The wooden surface has not been changed to date and continues to prove to be the most simple, less expensive and visually most efficient alternative.

General contractor
Children's Home Foundation Hagendorn, CH-Hagendorn

Architecture and overall management
Raum B Architektur, CH-Zurich
Daniela Saxer dip. Arch. ETH SIA

Landscape gardening
Appert+Zwahlen Landschaftsarchitekten BSLA, CH-Cham

Timber construction engineer
Walter Bieler, CH-Bonaduz

Playground equipment and objects
Johanna Näf, sculptor, CH-Lucerne

Project planning
2001 – 2005

Construction
2006

Overall costs: Planned building costs phases 1-5
CHF 1.0 million

Photographer
Daniela Kienzler, Lucerne
 

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