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How to Tackle a Difficult Site When Designing a Playground

Planning around a difficult site

Planning a playground on a difficult or complex site? Whether you’re a school with minimal space or a landscape architect dealing with a sloped site, we’ve pulled together some tips to help you maximise the play value in these difficult situations.

As a school, you may not know that your site presents some difficulties for building a playground. So before you embark on the journey, we recommend reading this article and requesting a site assessment to identify if your site has site constraints that need to be managed.

Challenging sites for a play area can either be a small play area, a sloped site, or even a site with existing shade sails. Another common complex site is a play area that is awkwardly shaped or linear-shaped.

These sites shouldn’t prevent you from getting an excellent playground that provides a lot of fun for children. But because of Australian standards, a small area, for example, must be carefully assessed to ensure you get the most play value out of the space.

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How are site challenges overcome?

Playground designers can use a range of tools to deal with complex sites. A common is, customisation and flexible design, which means you can design a playground that is uniquely tailored to fit in a space. Not all playground suppliers have this flexibility and are restricted to standard play equipment items that cannot be reconfigured to suit a site. The disadvantage of this more rigid playground structure style is that you may not fit much playground equipment into the area, or it simply may not fit at all.

Another tool is experience and know-how in playground design, especially a thorough understanding of the playground standards. Understanding the standards will allow you to carefully configure a playground design to ensure it is compliant while maximising play value.

Small sites

One of the most overlooked kinds of complex playground sites is projects with small areas. This is most common in schools with restricted areas, for example, urban schools. Depending on the area, if it’s a tiny area, consider playground equipment with no impact area at all. An excellent example of this is play panels.

Another option is to look for smaller equipment. This could be a free-standing monkey bar, slide unit, or climbing cube. Remember that most play equipment has an impact area that the Australian requires.

Another suggestion is to go for height in small playgrounds, so instead of designing horizontally, change your thinking to vertical. The Parkway Tavern is an excellent example of this being restricted with space. The playground design has been created using a play tower that has a small footprint but has plenty of levels of play.

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The Parkway Tavern

By understanding the standards and customising equipment, playground designers can remove some impact areas through guardrails or barriers. This allows you to build a playground right on the site’s boundary. adventure+ worked closely with a landscape architect at Melbourne City Council to achieve precisely that for the Bellair Street Park project.

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Bellair Street

Sloped sites

Another area that can sometimes present difficulties when planning your playground project is a steep or sloped site. Slopes can also provide excellent opportunities if viewed creatively. Remember that some play equipment works well on slopes; for example, a mound slide, bridges or rope climbs.

Conversely, some elements, such as steel frame rope structures, may not work well on a sloped site, whereas a steel combination unit or modular rope structures can be adjusted to accommodate an incline.

The key is for the playground designer to be aware of the slope. This will mean conducting a site visit and taking levels for a school. For a community space, it is critical for the playground design to have access to landscape plans with levels. Slopes can often be absorbed through careful use of the correct components in a playground.

In many cases, a slope can be used as an advantage to your playground design. For example, the playground at Dendy Park had a hill that provided the perfect opportunity for a large mound slide and a rope structure sprawling across the site.

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Dendy Park

Sites with shade sails

Existing shade sails over a playground can cause difficulties in playground design. Height is critical in this case, and you want to ensure plenty of size between the play equipment and the shade sail. This can prevent vandalism and minimise maintenance and wear and tear.

When designing a playground for such sites, designers might need to avoid using roofs and use lower components.

It’s also essential to ensure there’s sufficient space around the uprights of the shade sails. The shade sail posts must be outside the impact areas of the playground for the play space to be compliant.

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St Thomas More Primary School

Awkward & linear sites

Lastly are awkward or linear-shaped playground sites. The best way to combat this is to design your playground project to include the right equipment and the correct equipment configuration. A great example of this is the Rolling Hills Primary School. While the site was relatively narrow but long, adventure+’s expert design team created a long string of interlinking activities that fit the space perfectly without compromising on play value.

The length of components is often overlooked as a way to achieve excellent play value. At adventure+, we specialise in long playground components. This simple design technique of adding length means that children get more out of the equipment. For instance, monkey bars with more rungs encourage children to exert more physical energy and thus get more out of their time playing.

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Rolling Hills Primary School

Contact an expert

As a manufacturer and a playground company that takes play seriously, we can create a playground customised to your site, budget and requirements. If you need guidance with site difficulties encountered in your playground project or would like to arrange a site visit to assess your proposed playground area, contact us today!

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