Monday, 3 June 2013

We were delighted to win the European design competition to develop a natural playground for a prestigious international school in Moscow, Russia. The scheme is challenging in that everything we put into the natural play scheme must work year round. The playground is under a heavy snow cover for 5 months of the year, so tunnels and boulder mounds must work when bare and when covered with snow. Swings must be sufficiently high off the ground so the children can access them when the ground level is raised with snow cover as well as during the brief summer months. Materials need to be robust - there are no cheap options in an environment that ranges from -20 to +35C.

Exposure to natural light is vital for the health and well-being of our children. The sun powers our energy flow systems, food webs and human health and well-being. In environments such as Moscow where it does not  get light until 11am in winter we need to encourage children to play outside. We need to give them an extra impetus and incentive to get outside, to enjoy the natural playground, even if it is dark! Working with the environment allows us to make the most of a potential negative and turn it into a positive. With fairy lights woven through abundant planting, the trees act almost as street lights, lighting the surrounding area in a magical way that emphasises the raw beauty of the winter wonderland. Once the children are engaged with their natural play space they will access it whenever they can, and make the most of the brief daylight hours.

This particular project comes with an existing site that provides design cues. The " Kremlin" is a massive climbing tower that gives the school character and a sense of location. Our natural playground has to soften the Kremlin, leaving it as the iconic centerpiece it rightly is, while blending it into the environment with planting and natural play features. We will post photos of the completed scheme when we're done.

With so much snow and ice about it can get very slippery. Again we are using that as an advantage and providing 'slides' - ice skating and luge runs. Where the risk benefits of natural play outweigh potential negatives the children have an opportunity to enjoy outdoor play. As play designers working to improve public space and school grounds designs we are constantly researching new ideas, reviewing existing research and getting to know our current and potential future clients better. We look to best practice examples to see what works best where, and why. For the Moscow project we have found inspiration in Canada, Germany, Norway and UK.

Nature deficit disorder causes known harm. In response to this we are working to reconnect children with nature through natural play, regardless of where they live. Our aim is to prevent childhood depression. This is no small task and we are grateful for the affirmation of our work from the IMF and World Bank. This year our attention is on Russia, UK and New Zealand. Next year we are looking forward to new natural play projects in Tanzania and the US. 

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