Landscape architecture and urban design firm Taylor Cullity Lethlean (TCL) has set a new benchmark for themed play spaces with its design of Australia’s National Arboretum Playground.

Situated in Canberra and opened on 22 June, the playground challenges the conventional idea of a play environment. It features giant acorn cubby houses floating in the sky and enormous Banksia cones nestled on the forest floor.

Designed by TCL, the playground was inspired by the Arboretum’s 100 forests of rare and endangered trees from around the world. The National Arboretum Canberra project was a collaboration between TCL and Tonkin Zulaikha Greer.

It aims to creatively engage children with the beauty of trees and foster life-long connections to the surrounding environment.

TCL’s senior landscape architect Simone Bliss says, “Using the idea of seeds as the beginning life amongst the forest, children and their families can enter a fantasy world of exaggerated scales.

“The design recognises that play is a vital social development and educational tool for children of all ages, and is particularly important in forming relationships with the landscape, climate and surrounding context. The world amongst the giant seeds aims to stimulate spontaneity and creativity, to foster the imagination and to challenge confidence with growth.”

The playground's giant acorn cubby houses. Image: Brett Boardman.

Customised play items include portholes with insects, thunder sound panels, rain and hail tubes, wind chimes, kaleidoscopes, slides, ladders, sliding poles and rope tunnels, while boulder climbing walls sit below and include a clambering net and blackboards.

A clever structural solution put to TCL by Agency of Sculpture during the fabrication process sees a combination of pinus macrocarpus timber battens and red cedar shingles as cladding on a steel finned frame.

Image: Brett Boardman.

Australia’s native flora is captured by glass reinforced concrete Banksia seed pods, which are situated in the sand pit. It also includes bamboo chimes, bongo drums and a thongophone, and is sheltered by melaleuca shade structures.

A large custom-designed fishing net and bird’s nest swing-set provide elevated views to the Arboretum, facing the sculpture titled ‘Wide Brown Land’.

Image: Brett Boardman.

Colours of the playground were kept to earthy autumn tones so as to allow a sensory experience for children through smell, texture, form and feel. All plant species are native, except for one acorn bearing oak tree, growing to perform its role as the ‘story telling’ tree.

Indigenous grasses are being grown for basket weaving, sitting among flowers of red, orange, yellow and white.

A close-up of the acorn cubby houses. Image: Gemma Fennell.

The entry arbour of the playground was custom designed by Big Fish, creating an arrival point from the adjacent village centre. A secondary entrance includes a custom designed animal screen where children can identify Australian animals in a seven metre long puzzle.

The National Arboretum playground is a unique and inspiring experience for children, while meeting stringent safety standards.