Design director of the Envirnonments team at Frost Design, Bridget Atkinson, discusses how environmental graphics can collaborate with playground and landscape design to integrate play spaces into increasingly dense urban environments and create shared public spaces as an alternative to single-use pockets of traditional playground equipment.
It’s 8am in Kings Cross & I’m sharing Fitzroy Gardens (in Sydney) with the Saturday markets, locals drinking coffee, people still out from Friday night, the iconic El Alemain fountain, dog walkers, homeless people, a flock of ibis, and my two year-old daughter. The main attraction for us is the jail-fenced 150sq.m. playground, tucked in a corner fronting a busy beer garden, a champagne bar, and the outdoor tables of a schnitzel restaurant.
The demographic mix and urban density of this area have always been on a level more similar to many Southeast Asian cities than to the rest of Australia, and adding more and more young children into the mix has made me think about integrating play spaces into increasingly dense urban environments, and creating shared public spaces as an alternative to single-use pockets of traditional playground equipment. How can my field, environmental graphics, collaborate with playground and landscape design to achieve this?
Kids play on anything, and public art installations have been co-opted into play equipment to great effect in these examples at Redfern Park, Sydney and Madison Square Park, New York; while still performing their original function of animating the spaces for other users.
Use of existing local visual language
Urban spaces often have their own intrinsic graphic language – retaining original street art and graphic textures helps these playgrounds in Kirsova Park, Erskinville and Bangkok become site specific and integrated into the local vernacular. The use of graphics which are playful and colourful, but not specifically designed for children, gives both these spaces a breadth of appeal and communicates they are intended for the whole local community, not just the under fives!
Customised playground equipment
Graphics integrated into the play equipment or environment can work to overlay a more broadly appealing level of visual interest to play spaces. Both these examples in Simpson Park, Maitland and Sydney Park All Access Playground, Sydney incorporate purpose-designed equipment & are multi-layered experiences – insertions that work as punctuation in the surrounding public spaces, accessible to all users.
In dense areas like Kings Cross, public space is at a premium – design for diverse user groups is key to integrating play spaces into our urban environments, and providing multi-use zones that appeal to the child in all of us.
The visual language of these spaces is a major device to this end, communicating through public art, street art or environmental graphics that these spaces are for everybody.