Community Architecture

Changes in playground design

By Rob Waddell

Significant changes have been happening in playground design over the last few years due to greater recognition around the health and cognitive benefits of play, a strong desire to get children active and outside, and modifications to playground safety standards that acknowledge the benefit of graduated challenges which teach children how to manage risk.

Out of all of the changes, we have found three key trends are emerging, and these are influencing the design of playgrounds both nationally and internationally.

1. Unlocking imagination through theming

Photography by Scott Burrows

Photography by Scott Burrows

With the introduction of video games and tablets, there is no question that the way a child plays and interacts with the world has changed.

Twenty years ago outdoor play was a way of life for us; we would disappear for hours on end building forts, riding bikes and playing sports. But now, with so much entertainment and stimulation available indoors, greater incentive to switch from screen time to green time is needed.

This has seen a rise in playground themes to evoke the imaginations of children, allowing spaces to be interpreted and used in a number of different ways to create a unique play experience for each child.

One example of this is the Frew Park Arena Play Structure Guymer Bailey Landscape designed. Built on the grounds where the iconic Milton tennis stadium once stood in Brisbane, its theme ‘deconstruction’ honours the history of the site with play precincts that reflect stadium spaces.

The grandstand is brought to life with large precast concrete panels of varying heights and angles, and it even features a commentary box – a steel-mesh box suspended eight metres above the ground, to offer greater thrill to playground goers.

2. Getting back to nature

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With many children experiencing nature deficit disorder not being able to play in the creek, squish mud in between their fingers and toes, climb trees and get dirty in play, there is a growing demand to create this experience within the playground environment.

This is particularly important for kindy children who benefit from the sensory experience nature play can produce.

From mud pits and water play to sitting on logs around a fire pit, roasting marshmallows for story time, nature play experiences allow children to enjoy the beauty and simplicity of nature, and hopefully inspire a deep love for the outdoors.

The key to nature play is to make it authentic using as many raw materials as possible. There are many plastic replicas available, but they do not create the same experience for children. Nature play areas should also be flexible, allowing for a wide variety of activities, sensory experiences and individual play interpretations – such as logs that can be used for sitting, standing or balancing on.

3. Creating a call to adventure

Photography by Scott Burrows

Photography by Scott Burrows

While as children we were quite adventurous in our play, as a society in recent years we have been more cautious, preventing children from taking the same risks as we did. While these intentions are noble, in that we don’t want children hurt, what we have failed to realise is that we are preventing children from learning key life lessons through play.

Research has proven time and time again that there are significant benefits when children are exposed to risk.

Adventurous or more challenging play allows children to identify their strengths and limitations, manage risk and fear and develop courage and confidence in their abilities – all fundamental life skills that are needed into adulthood.

These findings have resulted in modifications to the Australian playground safety standards that allow playground designs to greater challenge children and expose them to managed risk, where previous standards were inhibiting their form of play.

Challenges at height including climbing walls, nets, ropes, tunnels, barriers, slopes, sliding poles, swings and flying foxes can all create greater playground challenges for children that allow them to get a better sense of risk and themselves. By being more adventurous in playground design while also keeping in mind age and ability, we can provide children with greater life skills.

Does your kindy, school or community playground need an upgrade to create more imaginative and challenging play? Talk to our specialist playground designers today on 07 3870 9700 (Brisbane) or 03 8547 5000 (Melbourne).

About the Author

Rob Waddell is the Principal Landscape Architect at Guymer Bailey Architects. With extensive experience in designing landscape architecture for the community and education sectors, Rob has a proven track record of designing award-winning outdoor areas that capture the hearts and imaginations of children and enrich the experiences of the local community. With a keen interest in exploring the relationship between natural and built environments, Rob develops high-quality design outcomes that prioritise placemaking and people-centred design that works in harmony with the natural environment.

Designing California Lane

California Lane is an exciting new laneway precinct that has opened behind popular Brunswick Street in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane. The laneway, which is an extension of the Bakery Lane and Winn Lane developments, aptly incorporates retro elements from the nostalgic years of California.

With plans for California Lane started in 2013 by Guymer Bailey Architects, to celebrate the completion of this great new Brisbane addition we thought we would chat with Arthur Apostolos, from the family behind the Lanes, and talk about their vision and the design journey of California Lane.

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The inspiration

What was the inspiration behind the design of California Lane?

“With California Lane, we wanted to add to our existing laneways that include Bakery Lane and Winn Lane and create a laneway with its own point of difference that would blend the heritage of the existing buildings with the context and history of the laneway.

In this case, the context was that our father owned the California Café, once located at Carroll’s Corner in Brunswick Street. He took it over in 1961 and had it for 45 years. This became the inspiration behind the design and the name of the laneway.”

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The vision

What is your vision for the laneways?

“The laneways have been designed to represent the greater context of Brisbane, in that it’s a place where you can be yourself. The Valley has always been a place for everyone, rich or poor, successful or not successful, creative or not creative, the Valley has never distinguished between a type of person, and the laneways are the same.

We’re not targeting a specific demographic; anyone can go there who enjoys what’s on offer and what’s on offer is something Brisbane hasn’t had until now, a place where small independent retailers that are Brisbane unique can do business in a distinctively Queensland heritage setting.”

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The design

California Lane had quite the design evolution from where it started, how has it changed?

“California Lane was originally scheduled for construction at the same time as Bakery Lane; however, it was pushed back as Bakery Lane became quite a large project. As a result, the design naturally evolved over this time.

We moved away from the initial civic culvert and shipping container concept and settled on a traditional structure in the shape of a container to be in line with the 1960s theme. The Valley was in its heyday during the 1950’s, and 1960’s, so we wanted to borrow aspects that captured that era in colours, materials, features and finishes as well as in the tenancies that run down the lane.

The civic culverts that originally featured on one side of the laneway were stripped back to create an alfresco area for tenants, allowing customers to linger and enjoy the nostalgic atmosphere of California Lane with its palm trees, pastel walls and neon signs.”

What is your favourite part of the design?

“My favourite part of the design besides the colours and fresh feel is the fact that California Lane is so narrow. Bakery Lane has a courtyard, Winn Lane is hippy and eclectic, and California Lane is a narrow laneway that connects all the way through to Ann Street, having the potential to be a thoroughfare like a traditional laneway.”

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The result

Designed to achieve the delicate balance of business and pleasure and provide a haven for pedestrian traffic, the highly anticipated laneway showcases emerging brands and trendy boutiques among exquisite cafes, bars and eateries, to create an ideal spot for dining in style.

As we’re sure you can appreciate, reading about California Lane is one thing, but experiencing it for yourself is quite another. If you live in Brisbane or are due to visit, we encourage you to take a stroll back in time and enjoy the vintage West Coast vibes and fantastic food that California Lane is soon to be known for.