Giving serious thought to fun, design firms offer concepts for Philly playgrounds

The plan for Cobbs Creek Library was one of three winners in the play space design competition. (Community Design Collaborative)

The plan for Cobbs Creek Library was one of three winners in the play space design competition. (Community Design Collaborative)

Forty design teams around the world put their minds to work thinking about how children play in Philadelphia. They each competed in a playground design competition with a $10,000 purse.

The Community Design Collaborative, a collective of designers coordinating pro bono work for nonprofits, chose three sites in Philadelphia in need of better playgrounds: the Blanche Nixon/Cobbs Creek branch of the Free Library in West Philadelphia, the Waterloo Recreation Center in Norris Square, and the Haverford Bright Futures school in Mill Creek.

For the Cobbs Creek library site, the landscape architectural firm Ground Reconsidered consulted with a group of 8-year-olds for their vision of a playground.

“They described it like a character in a story — the character does this, then it does that,” said principal architect Julie Bush, who visited a second grade class early in the process. “We used that as an inspiration and made that structure as if it were a narrative structure.”

Ground Reconsidered designed an aluminum pipe bending into different play environments as it loops through a space, along the way becoming a jungle gym, a balance beam, a net climb and swings.

The other winners are Roofmeadow and Studio Ludo for the Waterloo Recreation Center, and Meliora Design and Viridian Landscape for Haverford Bright Futures. Each team won a $10,000 prize. Finalists included design firms from China and Canada.

“In the last few years, there’s been this resurgence of people saying, ‘Hey, remember what we did when we were kids, how we ran around and had freedom and played, a lot?'” said Community Design Collaborative program associate Alexa Bosse. “They are remembering that, and they want their children to have the same thing.”

Ground Reconsidered’s winning design for the collaborative’s Play Space — part of its Infill Philadelphia series of urban design challenges — will not necessarily be built. Rather, the library has the option to use the concept should it decide to pursue a renovation sometime in the future.

“There’s this Catch-22 in the design world, where you can’t go after funding until you have a design, but you can’t hire a design professional until you have funding,” said Bosse. “The collaborative tries to fill that hole.”

One purpose of the playground design competition is to raise the conversation about the importance of children’s play spaces, particularly in a dense urban environment.

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