Gardiner Architects relationship to the playground reaches back 25 years, to when they designed the original children’s play area. The facility has been a gem in the local landscape since it was originally built, and deeply saddened the community after it was ravaged by arson.
The project was built in collaboration with Jeavons Landscape Architects and playground builders Naturform.
The previous playground was loved for its natural material palette, providing tactility and a softness for the children using it. Gardiner recognise the importance of natural and tactile materials in play spaces, and sought to recreate a warm and playful timber environment.
The playground is the landmark structure of a greater recreational precinct, servicing the Eltham community, north of Melbourne. The precinct encourages social connection and play. It offers an exciting mix of play elements integrated into a timber structure providing a high level of access, inclusion and social interaction for people of all abilities.
Through consultation with the local community, Gardiner Architects determined that the timber construction was the most loved aspect of the previous playground. The designers wanted to recapture this by using recycled, marked and weathered recycled timber. The material is easily maintained and rather than wearing out from high usage, will endure and build character with age.
The crucial design direction involved fostering a relationship between the playground and the tall surrounding eucalypts, encouraging education and interaction with nature. The play equipment therefore isn’t solely focused beneath the large canopy roof, but sprawls out in the bushland.
Timber was used to assert a rural character to the structure, like an old farm shearing shed. It draws on memories of playing in old barns. Timber is incorporated into the play equipment itself, with the texture and warmth of the material adding to the overall aesthetic. The playground provides the opportunity for natural wood to not only be seen but touched and smelt, at a scale that children may not often experience.
The core idea was to provide a large covered playground that is SunSmart and usable in all weather. The chosen design prioritises passive solar design strategies, allowing the penetration of winter sun while maximising summer shading.
The large spans were achieved though the use of structural steel roof sheeting. The material reduces the amount of structure required to support large roof spans, and allows extremely low roof pitches and long cantilevers.
80-90% of the timber was reclaimed, locally sourced hardwood from a dismantled boardwalk in Victoria. The majority of the timber is recycled spotted gum, with the remaining virgin timber being FSC certified blackbutt hardwood.
The recycled spotted gum makes up most of the structural elements, along with timber screens and balustrades, seating, raised platforms and play equipment.
The larger structural beams were made from FSC blackbutt from Central NSW. A small amount of new spotted gum was used for decked areas once the recycled supply was exhausted.
The sheer quantity of recycled timber used not only bypassed the need for new timber, but also provided an extremely hard wearing and durable material from the qualities inherent in old growth timber. Playground facilities are typically made from less durable timbers and plastics, and involve extensive environmental impacts through the manufacturing and disposing of the products.
The two defining exterior elements, both structurally and aesthetically, are the large structural steel roof sheeting, with deep corrugations, and the generous prevalence of raw timber. 10 cubic metres of timber was used just for the cladding and posts. Raw materials provide the agricultural feel, along with economic construction, and approachability.
Landscaping was completed by Jeavons Landscape Architects, who managed to softly embed the project into the bushland area through the use of native planting and mulching.
The dominant material presence under the canopy is the hardwood used for the play equipment. In playground construction, the alternative to timber is most often plastic play equipment. These plastic products would have a limited lifespan and once damaged beyond repair would be sent to landfill.
The timber elements that make up a majority of this playground, can not only be maintained and repaired but if replacement or even demolition of the playground occurs the timber elements can be unscrewed and given another life.
Additionally, hardwood was selected for its fire resistance in response to the arson attack on the previous playground.