What’s in a playground?

Children are hard-wired to play. So why are designed play spaces needed?

“Play, an essential part of any child’s growth and development, is about children exploring the world, learning, extending and challenging themselves, understanding risk, and developing their physical and social skills,” says Boffa Miskell landscape architect Sarah Collins. “These days many children grow up in urban areas where opportunities for outdoor play are often constrained and, so, providing spaces specifically designed for play needs at progressive stages of child development is becoming ever more important.”

Clearly, then, there’s a lot to a playground. Knowing this, Boffa Miskell recently brought together from five offices, nine of our specialist play space designers to tour a diverse range of playgrounds in Wellington. They critiqued, discussed and brainstormed ideas; shared knowledge and had the chance to try out a variety of equipment.

The tour was kindly hosted by Leith McFadden and Clare Bodmin from the New Zealand-owned company, Playground People Ltd, which manufactures and imports playground equipment and with whom Boffa Miskell has developed a sound working relationship.

The tour included a range of playgrounds that the Playground People have been involved with, including the recently opened destination playground in Avalon Park in the Hutt Valley; a playground at Oriental Bay in Wellington; and the award-winning Waitangirua Community Park in Porirua. Also visiting the new nature trail being developed on Mount Victoria;

‘There are many factors involved in designing for play, with which we need to keep up to date” Sarah says, “As well as understanding child development, there are technical considerations of materials and equipment, safety considerations and the look and feel of the space which, above all, as the Playground People emphasise, should be fun.”

The Boffa Miskell team made the most of the opportunity to learn from the examples they visited – to analyse implemented designs, to assess the performance of built structures over time; to review different types of equipment; and observe whether planting was sufficiently robust.

Even small details were examined, such as the condition of surface finishes and flexible materials in differing environments. For instance, at Mount Victoria the use of existing site materials was an interesting feature while at Oriental Bay, a pyramid-shaped ‘space net’ made of ropes (the first to be installed in New Zealand by the Playground People) has proved durable in the tough shoreline environment; only now, fourteen years later, receiving its first maintenance.

At the bigger scale, the team considered the bespoke Corocord helix that extends the length of the linear Avalon Park, to be an interesting and well-fitting element.

Landscape architect Aynsley Cisaria found the tour to be extremely useful. “It was great to talk and exchange ideas. Even whilst travelling from one site to another offered a unique opportunity for knowledge sharing and capacity building. It was so useful to critique and analyse playgrounds, and, of course, to test out the equipment!”

Boffa Miskell is involved in many play space design projects in parks, inner city settings, preschool and school grounds, ranging from renewal of existing playgrounds to the design of pocket, neighbourhood and large destination playgrounds, such as that at Anderson Park in Napier, which is currently being designed. By coming together as a company-wide group our ‘Play Team’ feel well-placed to continue the dialogue they have now started – testing and debating ideas collaboratively to ensure high quality designs for future play spaces.

Boffa Miskell thanks the Playground People Ltd for the opportunity they gave us and their outstanding hosting on the day.

For further information please contact Sarah Collins

22 December 2016