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

A splashpad filled with large spraying palm trees and water arches may meet the aesthetic criteria for a project, but will offer little in terms of play opportunity. These types of results were becoming more and more frequent. Product selection was heavily weighted toward aesthetics or personal preference of the clients and/or designers with little emphasis placed on play value. With no regulations and little experience for many designers and clients, these oversights were imminent.

Recognizing the gap in regulations, standards and design guidelines for zero-depth aquatic play, we undertook the exercise of developing a philosophy for effective design. With the experience gained from thousands of installations, feedback from customers, observations and interviews with users and consultation with designers, a philosophy was formulated to assist customers and designers in their quest to design effective splashpads.

This philosophy is based on recognizing that any effective play area provides a variety of play opportunities for the intended users. Splashpads, for the most part, are intended for users of all age groups and abilities. We first defined various types of play based on the spirit of the game, skill development. For example, play events such as teams of water cannons create a spirit of competitive and cooperative play. Although there are various types of play that require different levels of physical development and various skills, water is always the common element. The approach resulted in three splashpad areas that take into account varying ages and skills.

The first, the "toddler bay," serves to introduce infants and toddlers to the interactive water-play environment and features above-grade devices scaled down to a level that's not intimidating to the very young. In other words, there aren't any buckets pouring torrents of water from on high. Instead, there are compact features that might completely escape the attention of older children or adults (and perhaps even designers).

This approach emerged from the observation that small children have a significantly different level of attention to detail. They readily respond to slight differences in water temperature, for example, or to subtle variations of depth and flow. They are also captivated by the differences between a gentle misting spray compared to a gentle laminar flow or soft cascade—things we tend to overlook as adults.