5 Jul
Our 10 Favourite Playgrounds
Posted by Joanna Francis

Playground Ideas, in addition to creating resources that allow you to create your own playgrounds, also consults on and creates custom designs and builds for organisations and community groups.  Every one of Playground Ideas’ designs is customised based on three things (with the overlay of any budgetary constraints). First and foremost, an extensive community consultation. Secondly, stakeholder analysis. And thirdly, an analysis of the environment, including what local materials are available (are the core materials timber, stone, concrete? Are car tires readily available?) and any site constraints and opportunities, for instance, the gradient, water sources available, soil type and plants available etc.

Over our ten years of existence, we’ve had the pleasure and honour of being involved in some wonderful, creative playgrounds that have brought delight and stimulation to the lives of the kids living in those communities. Here are ten of our favourite playground designs:

1. Egypt. This design was something totally different to what we normally do. It was a design created for children living in a completely new city in Egypt, which was basically desert reclamation. So there were no parks, playgrounds or outdoor spaces, nothing but sand dunes and blazing sun. Shopping malls in this new desolate environment were sadly one of the only habitable places outside of the home and our collaborator on this project was concerned that malls and food courts were not suitable places for children to develop healthily. So the remit was to create an oasis of diverse activities, both indoor and outdoor and to encapsulate what play meant for all children.

2. Lares des Flores, Sao Paulo, Brazil. There was a Salvation Army early childhood centre with a great team of teachers who already had a series of steel playground pieces but they were all rusted, dangerous and broken. Next to the site was the local tip, where truckloads of plastic would be brought and burnt. This was just a historical practice, not an official dumpsite and although this project was not our most imaginative, it was in and of itself, an act of resistance against stupid community behaviour. Before we arrived, we got excavators to clear and scrape the entire site back down to soil from its black, plastic crust. Initially, we restored all of the swing frames and replaced swing seats with rubber car tire seats to make them safer. During this time, the welder doing the work became a real advocate for the program because he could see that the health benefits alone were worth championing and mid way through the build, he turned up with a stainless steel slide that he had built and gave it for free. All of the timber work was done using scrap timber from a closed down furniture workshop. On the last day when we turned up for opening day, the teachers had been up half the night installing ‘telephone booths’ which they built out of materials found in the office, a real signal that the teachers were enthusiastic and excited about the playground and its role in their centre.


3. Ruben Playground, Kenya. One of Playground Ideas’ most ambitious builds was the creation of seven play areas dotted throughout the grounds of the Ruben Centre, a primary school for 2,000 kids in the Mukuru slum of Nairobi Kenya. With a population of over 600,000, the Mukuru community of Nairobi is one of Kenya’s largest informal settlements. The centre had a large open area but as it was precious space we essentially created seven mini playgrounds around it. The instructions from the teachers and director was to create not just a playground, but to make the whole space playable. We built a town with market stalls, hospitals and banks, allowing the kids to engage in imaginative play that reflected their own experience. This project was a truly collaborative one, and the project manager had amassed a local team of amazing people, able to problem solve and come up with creative solutions to the various challenges faced along the way. The playground was designed by Elizabeth Moreno, who’s been with us from very early on! You can read more about the project here.


4. Guatemala. We can’t even remember how or when we first met Ancris but she had incredible passion and there was an immediate bond and there’s been an easy collaboration ever since. And when our digital designer Matt Green was burnt out from his corporate job and said “send me anywhere”, Ancris and her home in Guatemala was our first choice. Click here to hear her tell you the rest of the story…


5. PNG. This project was a collaboration between Playground Ideas, the University of Canberra and the Pacific Adventist University (PAU) in PNG and was a prototype for the PAU primary school. It was a stunning location, with the scent of Frangipani hanging thick in the air, and set in the middle of the beautiful rolling hills of the campus, shaded by majestic “rain trees”. PAU as a campus is almost a city unto itself with access to organic food markets, seedlings, a massive forestry project, their own water system and endless undergraduate volunteers. And because of all this, there was an army of highly skilled workers including masons, welders, mechanics, electricians. There was also access to broken machinery, sewerage pipes, and beautiful beach sand. Because the kids were already engaging with a lot of natural elements in the site, nature play was a big theme as was imaginative play, with a thatched house, a stage and sound shell, and a series of shops made from old fridges.


We created the playground design using play-dough on an old fridge door!

6. Danang Vietnam. Part of the 100 Resilient Cities project, and funded on a shoestring budget by the Rockefeller Foundation, Playground Ideas worked with Think Playgrounds (Vietnam) and CCC (people’s committee something or other) to convert a city block in Danang into a space with playgrounds as well as exercise space and a community hub. It had to be fairly generic as it had to be a space able to be used by all members of the community. It was designed for a central area of Danang, which was previously a river bed, but now a very inner city up and coming part of town. The design was done in multiple layers so that initially the site was re-claimed from existing users such as a mechanic, and then turned into a greenspace and then designed from there.


7. Starter kit playground. While Playground Ideas wants everyone to customise their own playground based on their own local needs, we thought that some people might just need a bit of inspiration. So the Starter Kit is a collection of some of our most popular elements and can be used as a starting point for people to get their head around. Of course, we have so many other easy designs available for your use so use this as a jumping off point and then get those imaginations going!

8. Bangladesh. We were approached by a major International NGO to create a prototype playground within a host community of the newly built Rohingya refugee camps. The playground build was funded by IKEA and was done in collaboration with occupational therapists who were working locally with landmine victims and other complex cases, with the intention of making the design an inclusive design for children of all abilities, a space where everyone was welcome and could engage in freely chosen, self directed play, without any obvious “disability” elements. Despite the challenges and complexity due to the refugee crisis, we were able to deliver a high quality playground that incorporated local elements, such as a traditional local fishing boat.


9. Lanna International school, Thailand. We were approached by the school which was growing quickly and opening a new campus and wanted to create a beautiful playground. It was a unique project because the parent group were looking for something natural, progressive and creative for the kids, and this needed to be balanced by the needs of the prestigious, fee paying school. The playground was to be the central part of the school, with every office and classroom looking out onto the site, so it had high impact. Melbourne landscape architect Flynn Hart created the design and we think it balances perfectly the status of the school, with a super adventurous design for the kids.


10. Pakistan. Our most recent project and still ongoing, this project is a collaboration with the same INGO as in Bangladesh, and was created on a barren brown field site with a blank slate, a flat open space with nothing but rubble in a conservative Islamic neighbourhood. We worked with a great hospitable local team, to incorporate the local ceramic work that children were already doing into a central clay molding social area. We customised our Tha Wah car design to reflect the design of the local Pakistani trucks. The design has a good balance of all our playground ideas’ trademark elements of imaginative role play, nature play, physical and sports play and is really reflective of the local area and culture.


Please help us to continue creating and sharing free resources, so that you and others all over the world can keep creating awesome play spaces for kids!

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