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What You Need to Know Before Building a Rooftop Playground


When you imagine a playground you’ll commonly think of an open expanse of freshly cut green grass, shiny new playground equipment, and children laughing. That image, while still promising for individuals in rural areas, isn’t viable for many urban environments. Instead of frolicking in an expanse of grass, children in urban areas are typically confined to rooftops and it’s up to designers to make them feel like they are free to roam, run, and most importantly, play.


Open play area on roof top with EuroFlex rubber tiles


When it comes to designing a rooftop playground, there are numerous design elements to consider in order to make it a safe and successful playspace for children to enjoy. The first decision you have to make is the surface material that you will use for the playground. When choosing appropriate surface materials you want one that is shock absorbent, easily maintained, and won’t damage the roof underneath.

Once the surface material is chosen, the next step is choosing play equipment suitable for the space. Since you’ll be working with a smaller area, you’ll want to maximize the space by thinking beyond traditional play structures. Some equipment choices that make for successful rooftop playgrounds include:

  1. Play structures that are narrow and can be built vertically. Despite children being on top of a building, they still want to experience what it’s like to be higher above the playground than their peers. So providing them with a climbing wall is an excellent way to conserve space but give them the opportunity to play physically, cognitively, and socially.
  2. Play structures that don’t have to be affixed to the roof. Having a discovery center where children can grab everyday objects to play with, exposes them to opportunities for collaboration, sharing, and exercising their problem solving skills.
  3. Include different types of touchable surfaces. Providing children an opportunity for sensory learning is just as important as having a variety of play equipment for them to play on. Sand, grass, and loose stones are great surfaces for children to interact with.

Wallholla designed by Carve


After the play equipment is chosen, the next step is ensuring that the area has shade and the equipment is strategically placed to reduce direct exposure to the sun. This is important as it helps to prevent children from getting a sunburn, experiencing heat strokes or being harmed from a surface that has become too hot. You can achieve shade and minimize the chances of equipment overheating through incorporating trees onto the rooftop, using canopies, or angling equipment to reduce the exposure to the sun and provide shade to the area.

Tricycle pathway with full shade. Painted EuroFlex rubber tiles.


The final and arguably most important step is ensuring that the space is properly enclosed. As children are highly curious in nature, it’s important to consider taking extra safety precautions when they’ll be on a roof. Any playgrounds that have bridges, tunnels, or similar structures, must have railings and guardrails. The entirety of the playspace must have structural safety barriers to prevent children from climbing out of the rooftop space and into harm’s way. It’s also critical to continually inspect the area to ensure that the safety measures are not compromised.

When you’re done designing the space, review the project to consider its overall appeal. While keeping children safe is the top priority, occasionally designers accidentally make their playspace seem more like a jail cell than a playground intended for exploration and play. So essentially, it’s all about balance when it comes to designing a rooftop playground. Once you’ve found the perfect balance, you’ll have children consistently playing and parents ecstatic to find a new favourite space.

Emily Matlovich is the writer for CADdetails’ blog Design Ideas for the Built World. The blog is an extension of CADdetails.com, the leading provider of manufacturer-specific building product information, high-quality CAD drawings, 3D models, BIM files, specifications, images, projects and related documents from over 500 of North America’s top manufacturers. All of their high quality, digital content is available for download here 100% free of charge.