With the holiday season in full swing, we’d like to showcase some recently released play options we’re really excited about. We like these designs for distinct reasons. Some uncover the enriching possibilities of the playground for children with atypical physical or cognitive needs. Others are especially innovative and daring in their designs. Still others create opportunities for play in unexpected venues or across cultures or generations. Above all, these are play pieces our clients have touted for stepping outside the familiar to broach new ground. Think of it as a playground wish list for 2019.
It’s hard to disguise our enthusiasm for the rapid spread of hill slides across the country. In a recent blog, we celebrated what may be the first glimmer of a golden age of American playground slides. From a swerving 50’ long chute at Ron Holthuysen’s nature-themed playground at Rush Creek Lodge in Yosemite, California to the swift galvanized steel hill slide that laces together zones of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates’ Seaside Park in Brooklyn, hill slides are reshaping playgrounds in much the same way flat screen TVs altered the complexion of the modern family room. Enmeshed and at home within their structural surroundings, they leave room for other things. For any designer looking to use the contours of a natural or constructed landscape to enliven the play experience, hill slides deserve a place at the top of the wish list.
The Farm Pump and Sand and Water Play Systems
The Farm Pump isn’t exactly a new product, but renewed national interest in durable, crafted goods combined with children’s natural love of water and innate desire to gain power over their environments has made this one of our most consistently popular items. As Holly D. Ben-Joseph, principal of the eponymous Concord, Massachusetts-based landscape design firm, says, “The Farm Pump is just a wonderful tool for kids; they love being in charge of the water flow.” Being in charge—of a stream of water, of an imagined world, of anything—is a privilege children don’t enjoy nearly enough. But, at the helm of the farm pump, they find a welcome exception to the rule. Consider pairing it with other sand and water offerings—the Sand Silo, the Winder Pump, the New Orleans System—to create a STEM-based play space.
Outdoor ping pong tables
Back in February, we wrote about how ping pong has become the indoor sport du jour among hip twenty-and thirty-somethings at glitzy clubs from New York to Dubai. The trend has caught fire at playgrounds, too. From Bryant Park and Tompkins Square Park in New York City to Grant Park in Chicago, table tennis is quickly taking to the streets as park and school administrators are seeing the value of ping pong tables in outdoor settings. Not only has table tennis been shown to decrease stress and improve concentration among participants, it also has been reported to spur social interactions that can cut across age groups and cultures. We’re excited to enter the fray with a range of attractive, weather-resilient, polymer concrete models by Maillith. Not only can these tables can handle the elements, but they’re available in varied shapes and colors, and can be installed virtually anywhere. Looking to breath new life into a swimming pool deck, schoolyard, rec center, or neighborhood pocket park? You can’t go wrong with a new ping pong table.
One of the best rubrics to judge the value of a play piece is also one of the easiest to observe: “Are children actually playing on it?” When it comes to the Integration Carousel, a flush-mounted merry-go-round that allows wheelchair users to spin while safely seated, the answer is a clear and resounding ‘Yes.’ The video above, captured by Dawn Oates, founder of the Boston-based inclusive play advocacy group Play Brigade, speaks for itself, but it was Oates’ comment about the carousel’s accessibility to all children – not exclusively those who use wheelchairs – that really struck a chord with us. “All children can play in a single group; they’re involved in the activity together. That’s what inclusion is really about.” We couldn’t agree more. Make this the centerpiece of an integrated playground design and watch the children come running.
The Basket Swing
Many playground swings look like clones: a rubber belt seat fastened to a metal or plastic chain and suspended from an A-frame structure. We think these traditional designs—the provenance of which may go back to the 5th Century BC (they’ve been seen on vases painted by Greek artists of this period)—are great. As we’ve touched on before, children have a natural desire to move in three dimensions; to spin and get dizzy; to develop awareness of their bodies and how they move through space. This instinct is deeply rooted in the vestibular and proprioceptive regions of the brain, and the act of swinging helps children strengthen these neural pathways.
But it’s time for more diversity to reflect the broad range of children’s abilities and preferences. Goric doesn’t have a typical swing; we have the Viking Swing, Seagull Swing, cable ride, and post swing. Each fulfills a different aim, whether allowing children to ride in groups or improving accessibility for users with limited mobility. This year’s stand-out might be the basket swing. It’s made swinging a little easier—and a little cozier—for young ones. And as Jennifer Brooke, founder and principal of the Massachusetts-based landscape architecture firm Lemon Brooke, observed in a recent blog, it finds a welcome home within a natural playground design.”A swing on a tree is great in a natural setting at a home residence, but you can’t do that in U.S. playgrounds or museums. The design of the Basket Swing let us insert that swinging experience in a way that was not incongruous with the setting—you can pretend you’re a bird or a spaceship.”
Rubber surfacing and accessories
The durability and springy bounce of rubber surfacing, not to mention its leniency in responding to falls, have helped the playful base layer become the unofficial gold standard at urban playgrounds designed by some of the country’s most prominent firms, including the Office of James Burnett, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, and James Corner Field Operations. Goric is helping to elevate the industry by making richly patterned, tactile, and thematic educational designs possible with Euroflex(R) recycled rubber surfacing and crafted accessories, such as EUROFLEX® Balls and Half Balls, Steppers, and Palisades. When the holiday excitement dies down and the snow melts, rubber surfacing may be the perfect refresh for a dated hardscape showing signs of weather and age. Or, it may lay the groundwork for an exciting new sensory-rich playground. Either way, it will bring some cheer to the play space.
It won’t fit neatly in a stocking, but the Wallholla packs a lot of punch for its size. Designed by the Dutch firm Carve and distributed in North America by Goric, the three-story steel mesh structure is capable of accommodating 60 children on a 27, 38′, or 53′ by 4′ footprint. It’s striking design and climbing appeal have made it a welcome addition to schoolyards and play spaces in Washington D.C.; Boston; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Clarskburg, Virginia; Ontario, Canada; and at several sites in the Netherlands and Singapore. The latest installation took place earlier this year at an 8,000-square-foot micropark by Lee & Associates in northeast Washington D.C., where the structure is challenging older children and serving to separate designated areas for children and dog owners. This is the perfect gift for a school or city park looking to enliven a tight space with style and deliver enough thrill to keep tweens engaged.