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The thoughtful and deliberate selection of materials is crucial to designing a cohesive and attractive play space. Playgrounds are places of joy and imagination, and we recognise that we must exploit the features of a combination of materials to create unique and customised playgrounds. Each material has different strengths and opportunities for customisation, and we can use this to our advantage to design playgrounds that are beautiful and engaging for everyone.
Steel or aluminium are known for their strength and durability; this makes them ideal for constructing tall structures and large unsupported spans. Given its relative affordability, steel is one of the most common materials used in playground equipment, especially for uprights and platforms, but also for handrails, climbers and overhead components. Even in playgrounds where other materials such as timber or plastic are desired for aesthetic reasons, steel remains the most suitable material for handgrips, climbers and other basic elements.
With a vast range of powder coat colours available, steel or aluminium components can be customised to range from bright and exciting to calm and muted tones, allowing them to integrate with many other materials and allowing a wide variety of creative solutions. A modular system based on predominately steel components that are structurally tested and compliant allows designers to use different materials on other parts of the playground to create unique and eye-catching designs.
The vibrant colours of HDPE plastic sheet components are a fantastic option for complimenting the powder coat colours of steel structures. Tri-colour plastic sheet as used on our playground equipment allows for intricate designs to be produced using CNC routing, making it a perfect choice for creating detailed, imaginative and themed play elements. The range of colours available means that there are endless possibilities for creative combinations, allowing designers to push the boundaries of their imaginations. Although plastic panels can be quite expensive, their ease of customisation makes them an excellent option for creating eye-catching and creative spaces.
With timber, its inherent natural beauty is a standout feature. Timber has a warm and inviting aesthetic and is ideal for creating rustic and nature themed spaces that are welcoming and inclusive. It blends seamlessly with the surrounding environment and coordinates with any colour scheme, either left natural to weather over time or coated with timber finishes in selected colours to enhance its appearance. Due to its unique strength and workability, timber lends itself to a wide range of design options. Using timber for main structural elements and components is a great way to exploit its rustic charm, while the ability to mix and match coating colours can create a fascinating contemporary look.
Customisation is another aspect where timber shines, as it offers incredible flexibility. The playgrounds shown here are perfect examples of this. The ease of working with timber allows us to create different profiles, shapes, angles and curves, making it possible to design unique and innovative playgrounds that truly stand out. With more options for widths of boards and special features, the possibilities are endless. Utilising our CNC routing capabilities, we can even add extra details in timber elements, such as windows, motifs, shapes or even text, thus making each playground truly unique. This allows us to create customised pieces that can reflect local culture and history or just add that subtle detail to elevate the design.
Due to additional maintenance that timber can require, it may not be suitable in some areas, or its use may be restricted by Council policy. Where this occurs, composite timber alternatives have several advantages, including resistance to corrosion, insects, rot and fire while being aesthetically similar to timber. However, composite timber only comes in limited sizes and profiles. As is not as workable as timber, composite is limited in the design options and customisation that can be achieved, but its sustainability and durability make it the ideal material for some situations.
Wire cored rope is another common material used to construct playground equipment. This durable and flexible material is frequently used in climbing structures or for bridges and provides a great tactile contrast to the other hard, rigid materials typically used in playgrounds. Its use can be limited due to the high loads rope can put on supporting structures, but it is a great material for nature themes or imparting a sense of challenge and adventure. Wire cored rope is often used in playgrounds to create additional play value and challenge for users through its inherent movement and openness.
Increasingly, designers are using a blend of different materials in a single structure. This allows us to make the most of the strength and durability of steel with the warmth and rustic appeal of timber while keeping the ability to create colourful designs in HDPE plastic panels. Playgrounds like this example of Elford Green Reserve showcase this mixture of materials well, with steel posts and platforms, plastic panels and roofs and timber feature panels throughout. Often the best designs use several materials, and the ability to mix and match gives designers various options to create a unique aesthetic for their playground.
Material selection is a crucial part of the design process and heavily influences the overall aesthetic and functionality of the space. Each material has its strengths and weaknesses, and carefully considering what materials we use, we can create aesthetic, functional and engaging playgrounds that truly stand out. Need assistance creating a playground that suits your needs? Contact one of our playground experts today!