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The Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground, UK
The Princess of Wales Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens (London) represents an important trend in the development of play facilities. A multi-disciplinary planning team combines individual’s skills to create a playground which is rich in play potential. The result, in this case, is that it is almost too successful. A recent article by Clare Cooper Marcus in the December 2001 Landscape Architecture (photographs attached) reported that 5000 children and adults queue daily to enter the playground which uses natural materials (wood, rocks, sand, planting) to create a variety of both unusual and familiar play experiences.

The playground’s six distinct theme or usage areas encourage children to explore, to manipulate materials (sand, pebbles, water, leaves), to have a range of unusual kinesthetic experiences and to meet fun-orientated challenges. Special features abound: wooden boats in sandpits with sand scoops attached by chains; foot-sized metal panels set in the pathway which generate a musical note when stepped on; a pirate ship; a rock crocodile with a jet of water from its nose. For children it is a user-friendly play space which offers an infinite variety of things to do it sparks their imagination and inspires them with so many things to do that it enriches their learning through play.

Architects: Jestico & Whiles
Project Managers / Planning Supervisors: Murdoch Green Kensalls



Chelsea Day Center, UK
Sixty 3-5 year olds have access to a magical, adventure-rich playground in central London when they attend the Day Centre at Chelsea. By means of tight planning, the playground can support a wide range of play activities.

The children invent ways of using the open-ended infrastructure: from making mud pies and digging for mini beasts, to dramatic play, to climbing/balancing activities. Every part of this playground presents an invitation to play, to learn and to develop a range of skills. Perhaps one of its strongest features is that (despite London weather), children can play outdoors every day - based on the principle that "there is really no bad weather, only bad clothing".

The Chelsea Day Centre was established in 1928.














Stockholm, Sweden

Sweden has a long outstanding record on meeting children’s play needs.  A visit to Sweden in late 2006 gave me the opportunity to revisit public playgrounds initially visited in 1998 to further explore approach undertaken in terms of meeting children’s play needs within a tight urban community.  Parks visited were:

All of these parks were sited in tight urban areas and exhibited usage on both visits.  Notable in all of these parks was the heavy degree of usage particularly in outer school hour’s care by children and their families.  The notable features were:

  • changing landform which was well utilised for play
  • provision of a child’s cottage where additional play facilities and support were provided at peak usage times
  • provision of play facilities which clearly acknowledged and addressed children’s needs for a diversity of play experiences, notably:
    • changing landform
    • dominance of vegetation
    • unstructured play materials
    • sand, water
    • whilst fixed equipment was available it did not dominate, and was selected primarily for usage notably swings, flying foxes.  The provision of the pedagogy house and parties provided a needed human content so that additional elements and programmes could be run in conjunction with the children for summer or as part of the vacation care.  Elements of the playground during the summer was notable for the families present, mothers sitting on the hills overlooking the children, having a large degree of freedom to run throughout the entire play space and a notable inclusion of children of a wide range of ages, some playing with siblings, others linking up with children with similar interests and times.  It was clearly a meeting and social point for people in the communities.  A notable feature was the high degree of involvement in play activities that was clearly occurring, evidence of projects in which children had been very actively involved but had now worked through their course of involvement eg. Building cubbies.  Access to the equipment from a pedagog house on the days I was visiting had resulted in sand toys but also produced things such as skateboarding down areas.
    • Impact of seasonal variations on use of the play space was the most notable feature where the steep hills and mounds and the shallow wading pools of summer changing to an ice-skating rink and a tobogganing slope in winter.
    • A notable feature of this play was the active busy and high level of involvement free of collaboration between children, the thrills of engagement which involved a degree of risk taking.

The visits to these centres highlighted the need for greater addressing by Local Government, an outstanding example of meeting children’s needs within an urban community and an approach which is based on a clear assessment of children and community needs.


Examples of Play Environment Consulting Pty Ltd from around Australia
Play environment consultants provide services to community management groups, a full range of early childhood services, public and private schools.