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The days of monkey bars suspended over pea gravel are far behind us. But the evolution of playgrounds is happening so fast, and in such varied ways, the change can seem dizzying. Certainly one of the biggest trends of 2016 is the growing popularity of fitness-focused playgrounds designed for older children and adults. Another is decontextualization: finding, for instance, the longest children’s slide in New York City on Governor’s Island, a 172-acre island conceived as a nature retreat. As the year comes to close, we honor seven of the world’s most daring and successful recently opened playgrounds.

Play Landscape be-MINE, Carve and Ommgeving

What do you do with the massive remnants of the industrial-archeological past? Well, if you’re Carve and Omgeving working in Belgium, you turn it into a spectacular adventure playscape, using the spoil bank of a former coal mine to create one of the most vertiginous playgrounds ever. A prismatic play surface is replete with crawling tunnels, angular climbing surfaces, climbing nets, and giant stairs. A pole forest constructed of 1,600 gridded timber poles anchored in the terril’s northern flank refer to the mining past, as does a sunken black “Coal Square” at the top of the sixty meter structure. Who says a history can’t be fun?

© Carve, Hannah Schubert

The Hillside Eco-Park, Z+ T Studios

China, for its prescient organic farming tradition, isn’t exactly heralded for its commitment to the environment. But Z+T STUDIOS shows the importance of landscape architects working in heavily populated countries with environmental regulations. The premise of this 3.5-acre neighborhood park in the center of high-density housing development is to create a self-cleansing ecosystem with recreational opportunities for residents. A sloped design to capture and remediate stormwater includes a series of raingardens and retention ponds that invite birds, butterflies, frogs, fish and insects. The playground reinforces the design’s emphasis on nature with insect play toys and an undulating “wood carpet” of planked timber.

© Hai Zhang

Lawn on D, Massachusetts Convention Center Authority and Sasaki

For the height of urban cool, we’ve chosen the Lawn on D, a temporary experimental space in Boston conceived in the fashion of an old-school urban playground. The Winner of the 2015 ASLA Professional Honor Award, the fenced-in adult playground is surfaced in artificial turf and includes painted Adirondack chairs and games such as bocce, ping-pong, bags, and Jenga. Perhaps most notable is Swing Time by Howler + Yoon Usable, a system of polyethelene loops embedded with LEDS and accelerometers so they glow and change color as the move. No wonder the adult swingset, an instant hit among millennials, has been dubbed “Boston’s proclaimed selfie capital” by Landscape Architecture Magazine.  We include it in the hope it will take up permanent residency and become self-sustaining through sponsorships and rental revenue, as Johanna Storella, former chief strategy officer at the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, has suggested.

© Sasaki

Governor’s Island – The Hills, Adriaan Geuz and West 8

New Yorkers looking for an escape from the city will no doubt appreciate the 2016 opening of the Hills, the latest step in the transformation of Governor’s Island from an abandoned military base into a public park. On four man-made hills that rise from 25 to 70 feet above the island, the site offers extraordinary views of New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty, and the skylines of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Jersey City. Built from a combination of recycled debris from old residential buildings and parking lots that were demolished on the site, the height and slope of The Hills provide the topography for the four slides of Slide Hill, including the longest in New York City, a 57-foot-long curving slide embedded in the landscape.

© Timothy Schenck

Guldbergs Plads, Landskab

Sometimes, as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe knew all too well, less is more. That is certainly true in Landskab’s neighborhood park in Copenhagen. It was officially opened in 2015, but we’ll give it a break, because it’s, “Like Wow.” Using a minimalist pallet of 75 larch trees and 200 blue poles, the intrepid firm has redefined a central square in Norrebro, as a park focused on adult exercise. Hyper-colored and surreal in their arrangement, the blue poles set the stage for all the park’s activities. Adults can swing from six big swing stands, navigate a 3D climbing labyrinth at the top of a rubber landform, or test their grip on the gymnastic rings. Hat’s off to Landskab for taking the gym outside and getting back to basics.

© Landskab

Glenelg Foreshore Playscape, WAX Design

If you’ve got a beach, you’ve got sand. And if you’ve got sand, why not use it? WAX Design has taken that logic to heart in a beachfront playscape in Moseley Square, Australia. The design references the intertidal mangrove habitat in a circular sand pit surrounded by a play ring of slides and attenuated, soft-surface climbing structures contoured to wave and dune formations. The space retains existing trees, uses renewable materials such as rope and timber, and integrates challenges along a gradient of difficulty so that children of all physical, sensory, and cognitive abilities can enjoy the playground.

© Sweet Lime Photo

LeBauer Park, OJB

Parkouring may be an unfamiliar word to you now, but not for long if topographical projects such as OJB’s LeBauer Park in Greensboro, North Carolina continue to gain admirers. The term, which refers to a military training discipline in which participants, run, climb, swing, vault, and roll from one activity to the next, is apropos as a descriptor for the way young children, as well as older children and teenagers, are using the topographical playground’s custom-designed rubber surfaced mounds. Created with financial support from the estate of Carolyn and Maurice LeBauer, the actively programmed park also includes a concert lawn, performance pavilion, children’s garden, dog park, reading room, croquet lawn, and putting green.