The House on a Hill playscape: lessons from the Hornbach Playground, Germany, Stefan Laport

I’ve long admired this small-town playground by German landscape architect Stefan Laport for the lessons it holds for small playgrounds (backyards, schools, churches) everywhere.  It’s a simple arrangement of elements that can be adapted to a variety of sites, styles, and budgets.

1.  Start with a hill!   Playgrounds-should-not-be-flat, remember, and when in doubt start with a hill as the organizing feature of any playscape.  Make it as big as your site and budget allows; a bigger hill is also great for bikes and winter sports.

2.  Add different ways to go up and down the hill.  The Hornbach playground has an enticing set of large and small boulders that allow different routes, and also conveniently serve as benches on the lower part of the hill.  A child can also just scramble/bike/sled up and down the grassy sides, or creep up through the shrubberies.  Other options could be a stump scramble, or a rope-banister to pull up on hand-over-hand, or  a flying fox with which to descend.    The slide descent could also be varied according to the size and slope of the hill;  this same sort of arrangement would work wonderfully with a wide multi-user slide, for example.

3.  Make a feature on top of the hill.  To a small child, the hill is a big challenge and there should be something at the top worthy of the climb.  The house on the top of the Hornbach hill appropriately references the historic shapes and stoneworks of the monastery town.  But you can easily see how it could be replaced by a house with a completely different local reference  (like a log house, in certain American contexts), or by a far more contemporary design (an avant-garde playhouse that doesn’t necessarily even look like a house, or a playable sculpture), and could be more  or less expensive as budget dictates.

4.  Spill sand at the bottom of the hill.    The playground started in the sandpit, and sand both honors this history and the fact that sand and loose parts play are still essential on the playground.  The sandpit could also have boulders and stumps, or a water feature, or a small balance beam,  or any number of other features, and can be larger or smaller as necessary, but should always have loose parts available!

This mini-formula for a playspace can be carried out at less expense and difficulty than a set of standardized equipment, but note that this design by no means excludes them completely; it integrates easily with the addition of things like swings for dynamic motion or a net climber for upper body development, or adventure and natural playground elements like a den-building area or a felled tree.    I”d love to see more small schools, day-care centers, and churches use this ‘house on a hill’  playscape as a model, adapting it for their needs and local context,  instead of defaulting to a catalogue purchase.

2 Responses to “The House on a Hill playscape: lessons from the Hornbach Playground, Germany, Stefan Laport”

  1. Bob Meihaus said:

    Building or incorporating existing hills is a great idea, but comes with or creates a host of issues one most deal with, anticipate and plan for. Like erosion from natural elements and heavy use by children,natural elements care and replacement,even simple issues like childrens allergies. Not to say any of these should deter you from the use of hills, just some of the issues you need to think about in the planing and even construction phases. Love the concept but as designed would have problems passing USA Safety Guildlines, First ADA Compliance, the slide ending up in a sand pit with no accessiblity and second, the slide passing over hard surfaces like rocks, would not pass fall zone requirements around slide. I know children are supposed to stay seated while using slide but often they try climbing up slides, stand up surfing down slides, plus many other possiblities for concern and falls.

    March 27, 2013 at 11:44 pm

  2. Nigel Boldero said:

    Hi- strongly agree with your commenst about hills! At my last play landscape design I put in a large mound with a stockade on top plus wobbyl bridge and other access ways- the kids love it and the other features. I’ll be posting info about this site soon, but in the mean time if you’re interested you can see other exampels of ‘play landscapes’ (search term) I’ve designed on my blog ‘Old School Garden’ at I’m enjoying your posts !

    March 27, 2013 at 10:48 pm

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