What's in a Name?
Woodruff Park in Atlanta, Ga.
By Tammy York
It is large and unmistakable, just like its namesake. If you have ever been to Atlanta, you probably have noticed the initials ATL are everywhere, and the community refers to Atlanta as the ATL. Which is why the new playground at Woodruff Park in the city's downtown area is such a perfect fit.
When it wanted to get the best, most creative, out-of-the-box ideas for a new playground, the Atlanta Taskforce on Play (ATOP) opened up the Playable10 International Design Competition, partnering with the Georgia Tech Department of Architecture. ATOP's mission is to create innovative, inspiring, sustainable, multigenerational playspaces with the power to change communities and lives
"Playable10 received applications from all over the world," said Cynthia Gentry, founding director for ATOP. "The winning design came from a fellow who is a videogame designer, and this was the first playground he had ever designed."
The applications were judged by a panel including representatives from the Metropolis Magazine and the design director of parks and cultural affairs for the city.
"I saw a posting on designer.com about the Playable10 contest for Atlanta, so I looked into it and said, hey I can do this," said Jeff Santos, the videogame designer whose design eventually won the competition. "Even if I couldn't win it, I wanted to see if I could design a playground in my own spare time, but the funny thing about it was I didn't know how to start."
Santos had no experience in building a solid structure in the real world. So, he began by looking at playgrounds and looking at what is out there and different. "A lot of the playgrounds are generic and boring," Santos said. "The playgrounds are all the same, and there is no sense of wonder about it. I wanted to create something with a sense of community, playable and pleasing to the eye. I really wanted to create something that was also a landmark."
Santos began by buying a bunch of art supplies, including plasticine, to begin making several different renditions.
"The sports teams, hip-hop artists and youth refer to their city as the ATL," Santos said of how he landed on the ATL design for his entry. "I am also a huge fan of Sesame Street, and they always have letters as the building blocks of learning for everything."
From Design to Built
Once the winning design was selected, the team had to "… figure out how in the world it was going to be built," Gentry said. "We wanted it to be accessible, environmentally sound and safe."
After some investigation, they turned to Landscape Structures Inc. to design and construct the playground structure. The Minnesota-based playground manufacturer agreed to step up to the plate and began working on developing a playground that stayed true to the initial design concept of the letters ATL, but also meets safety standards and is accessible.
"I visited Atlanta, and it was mindboggling how much the ATL is used throughout the area. By designing the playground using the letters ATL, it gave the playground a sense of place, which is very important for children," said Nick Metz, custom designer with Landscape Structures. "The playground structure is relatable to children and gives them a feeling of ownership and something to be proud of."
It also was crucial to design the playground to be ADA-compliant. "The first thing we noticed right away was there were some features that wouldn't be in compliance with the playground world," Metz said. "I figured out ways to keep the original intent of the design while keeping the playground safe and accessible."
Some of the added features include a recycled plastic with simulated wood grain and transfer module with D-rings.
"To attract the caliber of designer you want, you have to have the funds in place to build something of substance," Gentry said. "The prize generated a high caliber of contributors. Make an effort to reach out to named designers to up the ante. It is important that you maintain a strong social media aspect to keep people informed about the design."
"It was an awesome initiative. We advise other groups interested in designing a playground to consult with playground experts early in the process to save yourself time and headaches," said Jane Jenewein, director of strategic alliances with Landscape Structures.
Woodruff Park in the heart of downtown Atlanta is now the home of the ATL playground. This is a central location that is iconic and highly visible to visitors.
ATOP is hosting a Playable Design Institute in the fall of 2013 in Atlanta. "We want to push designing playgrounds for children forward and create a sense of place in what we are doing," Gentry said. "Kids respond to design and creativity, and it builds inside of them."
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