Supplement Feature - April 2012
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Go Play!

Vibrant Colors, Exciting Layouts Capture Interest

By Julie Knudson

Like the desert-inspired color palette used in Las Cruces, part of the energy at Doug Nickles stems from the playground's tie to the landscape. The design team wanted the equipment to flow with the surrounding environment, leading to the extensive use of earth tones. Other details were incorporated to enhance the natural effect, including platform bases that resemble tree trunks and side panels made of faux wood, all handsomely offset by structural posts in deep red. Elements such as "the use of stones and trees in the playground equipment" was a recurring theme among the structures Lindsay considered, and it even influenced them to lay down a turf surface. "Our park is next to a lake," Lindsay said, "so we thought the grass would give it more of a natural setting."

The shift away from oversaturated colors has left the door open for "softer, more environmental color schemes," Norquist said. He estimated that a decade ago, at least half of everything leaving the factories was a primary color, but that's no longer the case. "You'll notice quite a few manufacturers have come out with different greens, blues, reds and purples that all kind of get away from the traditional primary color schemes and even move beyond the natural color schemes to make them more vibrant, but in a playful way."

At home in their surroundings, the playground structures at John Marty Park reflect the abundance of deep greens and browns found in the Pacific Northwest. "Within the last few years, we have seen parents and kids gravitating toward earth tone color selections—beige, greens, browns, etc.," Menke said. Standout primary colors can still add some spice to the visual landscape, though, as brilliant blue accents help to keep the otherwise earthy colors at John Marty Park cheerful during long stretches of gray days. At another park within the THPRD system, the sense of place was enhanced through the use of beige and blue surfacing that represented land and water. "Stepping stone patterns were added into the blue surface," Menke said, a touch that has delighted playground users. "Kids hop across them to get to the play equipment."

Today's playground equipment comes in a variety of materials, and the best choice may depend on location as well as purpose. In the warm climate of the Southwest, Johnston said that stainless steel often becomes too hot for playground users. "When it gets to be 100 degrees, you want to make sure that your play equipment is not absorbing so much heat that you can't play on it," Johnston cautioned. Plastics and gunnite have become popular in areas where heat is an issue, and wood continues to be widely used in all but the most arid environments, where it has a tendency to dry out.

To dissipate heat, the playground at Ambuc Park utilizes new plastics in many areas, but there are still situations where stainless steel continues to be the material of choice. Because the design of the Doug Nickles playground is targeted at providing an inclusive play experience for all kids, it was important that children with special needs, such as those with cochlear implants, be able to enjoy all of the playground's features. "The plastic-type slides build up static," Sindlar said, describing a situation that has been known to zap the external components of the expensive devices, "so we decided to install a stainless steel slide for those kids."