Designing Off the Site

A site can determine much about the design of a playground.  For instance, if there are many trees around, green colored equipment can blend into the existing surroundings, creating an effortless feel.  Furthermore, curves—as opposed to sharper angles—will work with the organics of the location and produce for visitors a more natural sense of belonging for the playground.  In an area like this, an aesthetically pleasing design technique is to make the height of the playground parallel with the foliage of the trees.  In doing this, the trees and features merge together to fashion a unified play site.     

Height Parallel at Novato Youth Center

Height Parallel at Novato Youth Center

Now, if the site location is in a flat area without natural covering, a designer may want to make the playground stand out, rather than mix in—and include shade structures for sun protection.  To do this, features that incorporate diagonal elements and tall, abrupt angles in the makeup of their structure can be used to create tension with the horizontal landscape, causing contrast that is very noticeable.  Also, if the playscape is to be built in large grass field, a landscape architect may want to create a sense of enclosure within the playground for a safer feel.

Feature Boundary at Vintage Green Valley Park

Feature Boundary at Vintage Green Valley Park

 For example, the features of the site can be grouped closer together with the tallest elements closer to the outer edges of the layout.  Because the most visible features—at the perimeter—are also the most prominent in size, a “peak” is avoided where the tallest features at the center are led up to by the shorter features.  A peak is comfortable, but a safe feel is more easily generated by constructing boundaries.   An example of a comfortable looking gradual peak design would be swings and spring riders on the outskirts, and then a slide in the mid-ground, and finally a tower in the center.  Although this is also an attractive style, the edges don’t stand out as much from the distance.  When the first elements a visitor sees are substantial in size, and at the borders, boundary limits are clearly defined and a sense of safety is produced.

By taking the site essence into account when forming a design, a playground can do more than provide a place to play; it can generate sentiments through design.

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