Instead of predicting trends for the year ahead, we’ve gone straight to the source: our clients. Here, our CEO Simon Filleul reveals the top 5 client trends (and requests) when it comes to playground design and equipment – and what it means for ‘real world’ school and community playgrounds.
Unique, customised touches are on the rise
More than ever, clients want playgrounds that pay tribute to local history and environment to signal a sense of place and ‘belonging’. For example, we helped create a poppy-themed playground in Palmerston North (New Zealand) to reflect the area’s link to military involvement. It even has a custom-built tower adorned by giant poppies. Then there’s a 228-section subdivision located near an Aviation Heritage Centre that incorporates a 24 metre-long flying fox in keeping with the ‘flight’ theme. We’ve also created nautical-themed, destination style playgrounds for coastal developments – with Sunken Pirate Ships to complete the picture. Increasingly, we also need to contend with tight spaces (especially for schools) and challenging terrain. Because we’re a full-service team, we love adding bespoke touches and creating customised equipment to specific needs.
Consultation and ownership are keys
Our clients increasingly involve stakeholders in their projects – from local artists, playground users to school students. For example, a distinctly colourful playspace in Hamilton, New Zealand, was painted by local residents as a community project. We’re lucky to have the flexibility to help with our own New Zealand manufacturing facilities – so we made the pieces to order and supplied them ready for the residents to paint. Or there’s the small town ‘labour of love’ that transformed an outdated 1950s playground into an incredible destination playspace – in an effort sparked by two local mothers who founded a not-for-profit development group to drive the project. There’s also the playground that was redeveloped in close consultation with local residents to become more inclusive space for all ages from toddlers to tweens (and above) with everything from a Starfish Rocker to a super-cool Log Bridge Fitness Station.
Low maintenance is a big issue
We’re leaders when it comes to quality, durability and low maintenance but clients are prioritising it more than ever – for ease, value and sustainability. We work in Australia, New Zealand, South-East Asia, the United Kingdom and the Middle East with clients operating in really tough climates. For the UK’s renowned Herne Hill School, we designed and delivered a custom-made playspace for their beautiful kindergarten with wobbly wood and sensory sand providing irresistible fun and easy upkeep, even in London’s winter. Then there’s councils who create playgrounds in coastal areas like New Zealand’s North Island, with specialist protective coatings to guard against corrosion and rust, while ensuring longevity of moulded plastic features.
Nature taking the centre stage
The mental and physical benefits of fresh air and the risks of COVID-19 have truly brought the great outdoors to the forefront. Outdoor learning is prioritised more than ever with smart open-air classroom designs in high demand. Also, communities and schools want playgrounds to blend with and highlight nature. From custom-built adventure courses made from Wobbly Wood to twig stacks for climbing, the playground has come a long way from pure plastic and sharp metals. For example, at King’s School in New Zealand we helped create a sustainable, rustic adventure trail for students, with a customised tower and tube slide plus timber steppers, stilts, natural logs, basket seats and balance elements – including a wobbly wood climbing unit.
Popular culture can be a positive
You can’t deny the effect of shows like the global phenomenon of Ninja Warrior. It has taken health and fitness in playgrounds to new levels. Now, councils and schools are asking for fitness stations and ninja course-type equipment because they know kids and adults love it! A Melbourne council created a Ninja Warrior-themed and fitness-focused playground after extensive community consultation, including the input of local school students. It has things like the Up and Over – Ninja, Double Scaling Wall, Rockwall Fitness Station, Ninja Wall and Tightrope Walk / Chin Up Cube Fitness Station. In a change to ‘traditional’ playgrounds, we helped a school in Perth to create a new playspace with all-ages equipment that was custom-made to match Ninja Warrior obstacles in a circuit style – like rock walls, rope structures and climbs, monkey bars and ramps.
The importance (and value) of the great outdoors for human health and wellbeing will continue to be in sharp focus. We’re also seeing the ongoing popularity of digital technology and smart playgrounds, as well as inclusive playgrounds becoming the norm rather than exception.
Want to know more – or have your own specific playgrounds needs and challenges? We’d love to help – contact us today.