Tumbling Bay Playground, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park London, Land Use Consultants and Erect Architecture, 2013
In the shadow of Anish Kapoor’s..umm…’thing’ (the Eiffel Tower with body dysmorphia) is a much nicer construct: the new Olympic North playground by Land Use Consultants with Erect Architecture.
If you were at London OpenforPlay in 2012, you heard Jennette Emery-Wallis of LUC describe the plans for the park, and it is lovely to see how they have come to pass. If you missed it, take a listen, as it’s a far more thorough discussion than I can provide in this post. LArch students will find her discussion of process and of some of the real life difficulties (utility corridors, deadlines) in developing a site like this particularly useful.
Landscape is central to this site: the plantings and even the playground itself ‘grow’ out of the landforms left from the Games, in a planting scheme that evolves from immature hazel copses to a climax forest of pines surrounding the main play area. Pieces of trees form climbing scrambles, retaining walls, and tall nest-like dens overlooking the site and connected by wobbling net walkways. Look closely in the photos for swings hanging from various parts of the structure, rather than isolated in a bank of swingsets! There is no requirement that a swing must hang from a metal A-frame, and this integration is a great approach.
I particularly like how the flowing naturalism is balanced by the strong lines of the geometric landforms and the contemporary ‘cross and cave’ sculptures by Heather and Ivan Morrison…this is a dense urban space after all. Intriguing log pathways encourage the children to move naturally into and out of the permeable playscape from three directions (no fence!), letting them spill out into the grassy surrounds for more space and games of tag. Moveable parts and cooperative play opportunities are found in a huge sand and water area whose sluices and pumps hark to the industrial history of the River Lea running nearby, and den building in the hazel copse is encouraged!
Beautifully executed, this playscape ticks alot of boxes for me: multi-generational, multiple paths and moveable parts, really great planting schemes, local context, sand and water, no fences, playgrounds-should-not-be-flat, feel-risky-play safe, and slides-should-be-wide! Plus there is even contemporary art (see the documentary below about the cross and cave sculptures). But you know what I most love about it? The grass. Lots and lots of grass! Such a relief amidst the oceans of artificial ‘safety’ surfacing that are being poured over everything of late. There are otherwise nice playgrounds, btw, that don’t make the blog because of overuse of safety surfacing. It certainly has its place, but it should stay in it, and the Tumbling Bay Playground limits safety surfacing to areas where it is truly necessary, leaving wide grassy plains and piles of sand that dream of play.
Very, very well done, and a new standard for playgrounds to match.