When imagining a playground, most people likely first think of a spiraling slide or a high-flying swing. Of course, play equipment is essential to a playground, but what’s under that equipment is just as important.
A playground’s surface is a critical component worthy of careful consideration during the design process. It’s essential to understand how various surface types impact safety, accessibility, maintenance, and overall aesthetics. A playground with the wrong surface type could create an unsafe maintenance headache with barriers that exclude some children. However, some surfaces can help elevate the playground experience for kids of all abilities.
Inclusive playground at Kathleen Johnson Memorial Park - Lowell, Arkansas
Unitary surfaces, such as synthetic grass and poured-in-place rubber, are widely considered to be the safest choice because they offer a cushioned floor to lessen the impact of falls. While a cheaper option, loose-fill surfaces like engineered wood fiber do not provide the same impact rating. Additionally, unsafe objects sometimes hide below loose-fill surfaces, and it can be tempting for children to throw or chew the fill material.
Inclusive playground at Two Rivers Park - Little Rock, Arkansas
Accessibility and inclusion
Wheelchairs and strollers move with little to no restriction on rubber and synthetic grass playground surfaces. The same cannot be said for loose-fill options. While engineered wood fiber and rubber mulch meet minimum ADA standards, they do not provide the same ease of movement. Landscape mulch, sand, and pea gravel surfaces are not ADA-compliant and should not be used at public parks and playgrounds.
Inclusive playground at Mills Park - Bryant, Arkansas
Park theme and aesthetics
A playground’s surface can enhance the look and feel of a park and could mean the difference between an environment that sparks play and imagination and one that’s bland. Poured-in-place rubber is popular for its wide-ranging color options and custom design possibilities. It can carry out a park’s theme, highlight walkways and circulation patterns, and add color vibrancy. Imagine a playground with a fishing hole theme. The rubber colors can represent water, sandbars, and even lily pads.
Plants for Play in Public Spaces
Fallon HenryLandscape Architect Intern
Children love to explore. Whether that's at a park specifically designed for them or while they are tagging along to an outdoor space with parents, kids find features of play anywhere. Plantings within areas frequented by children can add an element of play, or they can create hazards cities would rather avoid. When designing outdoor spaces, one should always consider which guests are expected to visit there. When the target audience or even the occasional visitor includes children, landscape architects must factor this into their design criteria, specifically the plant material.
The Importance of Natural Light in Community Buildings
Wes Burgess, AIA, LEED APDirector - Architecture
We’re all aware of the benefits of eating healthy and getting regular exercise. But what about getting enough sunlight? Many of us tend to spend most of our time indoors, frequently sitting at a desk in front of a computer for hours at a time, disconnected from the weather, and rarely getting an ounce of vitamin D (at least during the work week).
That's where the importance of designing to capture and utilize natural lighting comes into play. This is important for all architectural buildings, but particularly for spaces people spend extended time, such as the workplace and community buildings that are publicly funded.
The benefits of lighting within community buildings are not limited to the health of their occupants; there are economic benefits as well.