In London, An Imaginative, Upcycled Playground

Playgrounds: there appears to be something in the air right now. Not only have startling new variations been popping up with increasing regularity here on EarthTechling, they’ve been popping up (literally) in London as part of the London Festival of Architecture’s Pop Up Playgrounds tour, many of them featuring recycled materials. (In keeping with this summer’s Olympic fever, the Festival’s theme is “The Playful City.”)

But imaginative, green innovation in the world of play is nothing new to London. The Guardian reports that, way back in the 1950’s, Lady Allen of Hurtwood took the “junk” playground model of Danish architect  Carl Theodor Sorensen — who believed playgrounds should reflect the imagination of the child, rather than the architect — and adapted it to the needs of post-war Britain. By using reclaimed, recycled and upcycled materials (often bricks and other waste materials left over from the bombing the city had endured) and giving kids the tools with which to create their own games, this noted children’s advocate aimed to offer kids a place to play that instilled a sense of adventure — hence her term, the adventure playground.

Kilburn Grange Park adventure playground

image via Erect Architecture

These adventure playgrounds are alive and well in the United Kingdom today, and the Kilburn Grange Park adventure playground is the case in point. This playground, located in northwest London’s Kilburn Grange Park, was designed by Susanne Tutsch of Erect Architecture in response to a brief developed by the London Borough of Camden. The borough was looking for a play park and activity center that would give the kids of working parents in the neighborhood a place for natural and adventurous play — a place that would encourage social interaction between children (including those with special needs), and allow for potentially risky play within safe boundaries (a central tenant of the adventure playground). Tutsch’s adventure playground design was chosen, and the facility was completed in 2010.

This playground was developed as a sequence of outdoor ‘rooms’, with various degrees of enclosure, built around a central activity building. The center’s tree-like roof stretches out into the outside play areas, simultaneously bringing the outdoors in and the indoors out. The Kilburn Grange adventure playground includes a vegetable garden, an orchard with fruit trees, and ‘mountains’ of steep escarpments adjacent a safeguarded bonfire area (a common playground feature in Scandinavia that would likely send your average American helicopter-mom into a tizzy). All the natural elements appear to be represented here, as a water area constructed of large rocks with mud and gravel creates a constantly eroding mound in which kids are free to create channels and pools.

Kilburn Grange water play area

image via Erect Architecture

And then the are the tree houses, including ‘the galleon’,  a series of walkways and ladders connected to the ground via a wobbly bridge. As in all of the playground’s structure, natural timber and reclaimed materials were utilized extensively — perhaps most notably in the form of an old piano fixed securely on the galleon’s highest viewing platform.

The Kilburn Adventure Play Centre was honored in 2010 with the won the international Children’s Making Space Award 2010.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.