Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Playful places

I probably sounded a bit negative when I wrote about the play area at Waitangi Park, so here are some positive observations and local examples of the kind of play equipment that does give a sense of place and express local character.

Albatross on top of lighthouse slide at Frank Kitts ParkThis is the well-known slide at Frank Kitts Park: it's built in the shape of a lighthouse, referencing Wellington's maritime heritage, and the albatross at the top swings to face into our notorious winds. A climbing net and telescope add to the nautical feel. I'm not quite sure what the spiky blobby bits at the top are supposed to be, but they give the whole thing a quirky cartoonish aesthetic that's consistent with the Fane Flaws-Debra Bustin-Six Volts-Leod Hais milieu that was so influential in Wellington in the early 90s.

Children playing on the Tuatara in Cuba StThe slide in Cuba Mall is more generic, but curling up underneath it is this giant tuatara. It's a good example of something that doesn't need to be explicitly "play equipment", yet is immensely popular with kids (and parents, from the looks of things). Another crucial point is that it's right next to a couple of caf├ęs, allowing caregivers to keep an eye on their kids while relaxing with a coffee, rather than standing around in a windswept park. Grownups need something to do, too! At least Waitangi Park will have a kiosk next to the play area.

Children playing around Nga Korerorero, the fountain in Midland ParkAnother alternative to "play equipment" is what I like to call a "playful landscape". This sculpture, Nga Korerorero by Sivia Saldago (mentioned as part of the CBD heritage walk), is in Midland Park just in front of Magnetix. It's a great example of a multi-functioning urban element, since it's not just a sculpture and water feature, and a memory of the Kumutoto Stream which used to enter the harbour just across the road, but it also provides informal seating and a place for children to play. It's not a "playground" in the way that we've come to expect, with swings and slides in primary colours, but children can never resist running water and stepping stones.

Waitangi Park will actually have plenty of playful landscapes and opportunities for imaginative play other than the play area itself (the wetlands, climbing boulders and "manuka tunnel"), and I applaud the design team for that. It's just a pity that the equipment they've bought from a European multinational , while no doubt educational and enjoyable, doesn't continue that level of creativity and sense of place.


At 2:57 pm, September 15, 2005, Blogger Kate Borrell said...

One night some friends and I decided to slide down the Waitangi Park slide and we were rather rudely shifted on a thug of a security guard.

Why is it only the little demons that are aloud to have fun? Besides, at that hour all the demons were in bed.

One afternoon I was there and a small demon came up to me with bits of broken glass that had fallen from a broken light above the slide. Not a particularly safe design for a demon park.
(not that I'm demon friendly) ;)

At 3:29 pm, September 15, 2005, Blogger Tom said...

I agree: how about a demon-free playground for drunk grownups? Apart from Courtenay Place, of course.

The bucket fountain might count: it's a meeting place, guessing game, swimming pool, climbing frame and hobbit urinal all in one. I also remember a few drunken nights in the Botanic Gardens, down by the glow-worms, but the play equipment there had very little to do with the fun that was had ;-)

I was part of an ideas workshop last years, trying to come up with ground-floor uses for the new buildings around Waitangi Park. One of the participants came up with a sterling idea for two pavillions: a house of virtue and a house of vice. The Virtue one would have a church, gym, library and quiet gardens for contemplation. The Vice one would have a casino, bar, fast-food stalls and a brothel. Funnily enough, that didn't make it into the final plans, but one can always hope!

At 3:34 pm, September 15, 2005, Blogger Kate Borrell said...

Now that would have been hella funny. Can you imagine the christian crusading outside the house of Vice.

At 3:41 pm, September 15, 2005, Blogger Tom said...

Actually, it was Pauline Swann (staunch campaigner against fun on the waterfront) who first suggested a brothel. She started by speaking out against any restaurants and bars near the water by saying "Why on earth would we want a 24/7 waterfront? The only businesses that are open 24/7 are brothels". After that, everyone's plan had at least one brothel in it! Poor Pauline was getting quite upset by the end of it...


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