A Wet-‘N-Wild Playground Rethinks How Kids Play And Learn
Sydney recently unveiled its newest, biggest, and, by all indications, funsiest public playground–a 43,000-square-foot waterlogged wonderland designed to “promote learning and experimentation through acceptable risk taking,” the designers, ASPECT Studios, say.
Acceptable risk-taking? Borrrring! We want to hear about the stuff we can play with! Like the 3-D swing and giant rope net that climbs 32 feet in the air. And the water squirts, water screw, and water scoops–three different ways to get very, very wet. Or how about the Jumbo Swing set and more slides than any one kid could ever care to slip down in a day? And let’s not forget the 70-foot-long zip-line that lets you whiz through a grove of trees, Tarzan-style. Man, it is so much more awesome to be a kid today than when I was growing up.
I say that in all seriousness. Back then, playgrounds were obsessed with The Correct Way For Kids To Play, with the emphasis placed squarely on developing motor skills. You had balance beams. You had tires arranged so that you could only skip through them a certain way. You had monkey bars you were supposed to hang from right-side up, but never upside-down. Yawn. Yawn. Yawn.
Today, you see a new crop of outdoor facilities–from David Rockwell’s Imagination Playground to Cas Holman’s Children’s Workyard Kit–that emphasize a freewheeling approach to play over the more regimented style of yore. Sydney’s Darling Harbour Playground, which was inspired by cutting-edge playgrounds in Germany, the U.K., and the Netherlands, among other places, is only the latest and maybe coolest example. (Did we mention the zip-line?)
Take the water features. None has much of a prescribed function. You can sit on them. Splash through them. Spin some of them. Create homegrown water sculptures. Whatever. The idea is just to let kids go wild–within reason (that must be what they mean by “acceptable risk-taking”). “Play spaces should be innovative, open for interpretation, dynamic, and they should where possible respond and fit into their environment, ” ASPECT’s Sacha Coles says.
Another point worth mentioning: The playground doesn’t have a gate. Instead, the designers lined the edges with seating and observation outlooks, making adults the de facto gate. That’s a risky move in a big city, where jumpy parents worry that their kids will run off if they’re not all but chained to a fence. But there’s a reason for it. “We like the idea of involving parents and caretakers in the play experience,” Coles says. “And that means putting away the iPhone and watching your kids–and maybe joining in!”