Guest Column - January 2009
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Splash Play Areas: The Evolution of the Sprayground

Key Design Considerations in Interactive Aquatic Play

By Stephen Hamelin

To address capital cost, the splashpad design used affordable play products that could be combined and scaled to respect available budgets. From an operational standpoint, automation and user-activation was incorporated to minimize cost. To provide safe products in potentially unsupervised areas, manufacturers adopted the standards developed for playgrounds for public use (ASTM F15 1487). The aesthetic component was heavily influenced by playground equipment. Most first-generation splashpads were comprised of a combination of arches, spray posts, canes and other rectilinear shapes

A few years ago, a conscious decision was made to push interactive water in a new direction in which motion and the concept of living, organic features were keys. Products were designed to be visually appealing in ways that would reach out to designers and clients, but more than that, there was an emphasis on developing features that provided fun and excitement while meeting the needs of children to develop physically, emotionally, socially and even educationally.

Before long, the intricacies involved in achieving a real balance between form and function became apparent.

A great deal of time and effort went into studying the behaviors of children in aquatic play environments. We watched them at play and cross-referenced our observations with child-development theory. After studying several aquatic play areas, we found the age group under 5 years old seemed to be disregarded. With all the excitement of dumping water and spraying water cannons, toddlers seemed intimidated and remained on the periphery or in the arms of their parents. Although play products were designated for children in this age group, they were often positioned next to products that encouraged high-energy play and often attracted young teenagers.

Another important observation involved the time-of-play factor. This is a term used to describe the length of time or level of frequency that children will interact with play products. Every new splashpad installation generates an immense amount of excitement for the community. The novelty of aquatic play will have a positive impact on the environment. The life expectancy of these projects is often between 15 and 20 years, and it is important that in time the level of excitement does not deplete. The excitement can be preserved by maximizing the various play opportunities.