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.

[images from LUC, Davis Landscape Architecture, and the Old School Garden blog, which has loads of photos of the sand and water play area.]


3 Responses to “Tumbling Bay Playground, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park London, Land Use Consultants and Erect Architecture, 2013”

  1. shauna said:

    Thanks for the response Gurpreet.

    November 14, 2013 at 9:30 am

  2. Gurpreet said:

    Hi Shauna, the site has long-term maintenance plans – and structures (wood-treated) such as these can last up to 20 years if cared for correctly. They are also far less expensive to repair/replace. Building natural play environments is far more preferable to metal structures – to users and in relation to the public purse.

    We (Adventure Playground Engineers – http://www.apesatplay.com) built the playground so know this to be true!

    November 04, 2013 at 7:06 am

  3. shauna said:

    This looks fantastic right now. Do you what the long term maintence plans are for a park like this? How do the owners deal with the wood rotting and the equipment moving or falling off?

    October 31, 2013 at 11:11 am

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