The architects’ relationship with the Eltham North community began 25 years ago, when they designed the original playground that tragically burned down in 2017. This project is a contemporary reinvention of the original playground that retains the ability to serve as a place for the whole community to gather.
The project was a collaboration between Gardiner Architects, Jeavons Landscape Architects (who also worked on the original park) and builder Naturform. Not only was this collaboration a key part of the project, but collaboration with the community was also crucial.
Community consultation revealed that the community loved the original park and wanted it rebuilt where it was. However, during the redesign process it became clear that relocation was the best option, with the new site adjacent to a creek and surrounded by tall Eucalypts.
Through community consultation the project team also identified the most important playground elements; swinging, climbing, cognitive and nature play.
As a result, there are many ways in which the playground challenges children intellectually. For example, negotiating three-dimensional space, way-finding and exploration of interactive elements all require the use of imagination.
“Sun smart” design
The core idea was to provide a large covered playground that is “sun smart” and usable in all weather. This was actualised through an expansive roof supported by a timber structure, framing the play structures.
“The outcome is rural in nature, like an old farm shearing shed,” says the architect.
“It draws on memories of the qualities of playing in old barns – a sense of adventure, the smells, the challenge of getting up high or finding a quiet corner.”
Passive solar design strategies have been used, allowing the penetration of winter sun while maximising summer shading. There is also an emphasis on natural and sustainable materials; much of the playground has been made with reclaimed, locally sourced timber.
The design also serves as sustainability education. Park-goers are able to experience the natural environment through the relationship of built shelter and changing seasons and climates. There is also a water catchment off the roof that becomes an educational element as the large gutter that runs along the roof connects to the water tank, which is incorporated into the play area.
Old vs. new
Overall, the new playground is larger and more complex, and provides more play opportunity per square metre of coverage while improving the relationship to the surrounding landscape. It offers an exciting range of play elements in a comfortably-designed space that is easily accessible to all members of the community.