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Did you miss our Mastering Playground Materials Selection webinar? Don’t worry if you did because we’ve pulled together an overview of the topics discussed in this blog for those who missed out.


In our recent webinar, we took a deep dive into leveraging material diversity to create projects with a point of difference.

We know that it can be challenging to choose which materials you will use on a project to achieve the right outcome for all stakeholders – for instance, as designers, we may want to focus on the overall aesthetic. In contrast, a client may be more concerned about budget constraints. How do we balance these competing priorities to achieve the right result?  That’s why we compiled this webinar providing information about the key attributes of common materials used in playground construction. We want to help you make informed decisions to ultimately lead to better outcomes for the communities the playgrounds will serve.

We covered four main topics covered in this webinar. James, who is one of our playground consultants, gave us an overview of the aesthetics and trends in the market. Secondly, Jeremy, who heads up our product development team, discussed maintenance and longevity. Next, one of our design team, Monique, covered some of the relevant environmental and sustainability issues in this space. Lastly, Ryan, another of our designers, discussed the design and customisation of playgrounds.

Aesthetics and trends

The aesthetics of playground design play a significant role in the selection of materials, as they need to be compatible with the purpose of entertainment and recreation for children. The look and feel of the playground equipment should match the setting and location, with materials chosen based on their functionality and aesthetic appeal. The same basic design can be transformed by applying different materials and colours, from a natural feel to a bright and cheery or modern contemporary look.

Over the last four decades, there have been distinct trends in material selection, with treated pine and powder-coated steel dominating in the 1980s and 90s. Timber emerged as a popular choice for high-end architectural playgrounds, while rope structures gained popularity over the last ten years. However, tower-type structures are now more popular, incorporating rope features as part of the play complex.

Different user sectors trend independently, with early learning centres favouring timber for its natural look and schools preferring steel for its colour and strength. Councils are moving away from off-the-shelf playgrounds, with more emphasis on a blend of materials.

Playgrounds Williams Reserve
Williams Reserve
Project Showcase - Progress Park6
Progress Park

Maintenance and longevity

Designing a visually appealing playground that remains safe, functional, and engaging throughout its design life requires careful consideration and planning. A good playground design must strike a balance between achieving a desired look and ensuring easy maintenance and longevity. Maintenance can be an onerous and costly exercise throughout the life of a playground, so it is essential to consider this aspect during the specification process.

It’s essential that playground longevity is designed to exceed the predetermined replacement cycle. The lifespan of the playground can be influenced by various factors such as the materials used, coatings applied, and proper maintenance.

The use of timber is a desirable and frequently specified playground material, but it’s important to consider the type of timber that is suited to the local climate. Inground rot is not common; however, post stirrups are often used to address these concerns. Coatings are recommended for timber elements to maintain the playground’s ‘as built’ look.

Another option that’s becoming increasingly popular in playground design is the hybrid model, where steel or aluminium is combined with timber elements. Plastic is also worth consideration as there can be issues around UV stabilization and longevity, particularly in the Australian climate. Steel is strong, and if manufactured to the structural integrity standards required by the Australian Playground Standard, it should provide outstanding longevity, free of breakage, deterioration, or distortion.

Corrosion in Playgrounds - Warrnambool East Primary School v2
Warrnambool East Primary School

Environmental and sustainability issues

The selection of materials for a project is influenced by a range of environmental and sustainability factors. For instance, timber is the only major building product that can be continually replaced and managed for long-term supply. Sustainable forestry management preserves the carbon sequestering function of living forests for decades. White cypress, a naturally termite-resistant species sourced from sustainably managed forests in Southeast Queensland, is an environmentally responsible playground choice. The forest is regularly thinned to maintain its health and ecological habitat, and only 1% is taken annually.

Raw mineral deposits for steel and aluminium remain plentiful, but mining and processing present sustainability challenges. The emission intensity of traditional steelmaking is high, so the industry must continue progressing toward decarbonization. The world’s most recyclable material, steel, can be recycled without compromising quality and repurposed.

Plastics used for playground roto-moulded parts and layered ply sheets have environmental concerns surrounding combustion and disposal. However, plastic use in playgrounds has a long-life application, and disposal only becomes a consideration after years of use. Solid plastic can be recycled into composite decking materials, as seen in the Henley Brook project. All materials used in playground construction today have some degree of merit, and the choice of materials will often depend on the priorities of project stakeholders.

Webinar Overview5

Design and customisation

Designing a cohesive and attractive play space requires thoughtful and deliberate material selection. Steel and aluminium are ideal for constructing tall structures and large unsupported spans, while the vibrant colours of HDPE plastic sheet components are perfect for intricate and themed play elements. On the other hand, Timber is known for its natural beauty and is ideal for creating rustic and nature-themed spaces that blend seamlessly with the surrounding environment. Wire-cored rope provides a great tactile contrast to hard, rigid materials and is often used to create additional play value and challenge for users.

Designers increasingly blend different materials in a single structure to maximise their strengths and weaknesses. By combining steel, timber, and plastic, designers can create aesthetic, functional, and engaging playgrounds that truly stand out. Mixing and matching materials gives designers various options to create a unique aesthetic for their playground. Material selection is a crucial part of the design process, heavily influencing the overall aesthetic and functionality of the space.

5 Unique Design Ideas for Your Public Playground3 - Elford Green
Elford Green

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