KOMPAN’s Magna Centre playground inspires budding designers


KOMPAN’s award winning outdoor adventure play area at the Magna Science Centre is inspiring budding playground designers.

The adventure playground is not only proving to be extremely popular with children and families, but also with schools and colleges, who are using it in their design and technology curricula. So, as well as being played on by over 200,000 children in its first year, groups of pupils from primary to A level age regularly visit the KOMPAN playground to explore design themes as part of their studies.

The Magna Science Centre, which is located in Rotherham, England, opened in April 2001 and has won a raft of awards for its design and content, including the coveted RIBA Stirling Prize for the building of the year. It exceeded its annual visitor projections in the first six months and has been described by The Guardian as: "everything that the Millennium Experience at the Dome was not." The extensive adventure playground, which covers 2600 square metres, has itself won an Independent Living Design Award for the inclusive nature of the installation.

Anita De Brouwer, Magna's education manager, has been closely involved with the adventure play area from its original conception: "One of our key aims at Magna is to bring science to life and make it relevant and interesting. From the outset, we wanted the outdoor adventure play area to form an integral part of the experience for visitors - something that reflected and extended the themes that are explored through the indoor exhibitions."

Magna is set in an old steelworks covering 32 acres of land. The main buildings are imposing, with internal exhibitions containing large-scale special effects and interactive experiences. The site that had been chosen for the play area is one of the first things visitors see as they approach the entrance. So, as well as being appealing and functional, the play area had to be visually striking if it was not to be dwarfed by its surroundings. All of which meant an enormous challenge for the playground designers who were asked to tender for the project.

"When we considered the designs that different companies had submitted, we could see that KOMPAN had developed something innovative and special," explains Ms De Brouwer. "And now that we've been open a year, the play area has proved to be even better than we ever expected or hoped for. It is extremely popular and always scores very highly on our feedback." So much so that Ms De Brouwer regularly hosts groups from schools and colleges who use the adventure playground as a basis for teaching and practical lessons in design. "Magna is all about visitors creating their own experiences and learning about their environment in an enjoyable way," continues Ms De Brouwer. "Seeing the area used as a playground and for learning about playground design is a great practical application of this."

The playground design developed by KOMPAN mirrors the elemental themes of earth, air, fire and water that run throughout the Magna Centre, allowing children to experience these concepts in a playful way. When KOMPAN designed the area, they combined play experiences aimed at children of different ages with a stimulating journey of discovery through the four different themes.  This was achieved by innovative use of equipment in each of four zones representing the four elements. While the zones provide an underlying structure to the play area, they do not dominate, allowing children to explore and develop the themes in their own way.

The Air Zone, for example, includes parabolic speaking dishes that enable children to speak to each other across a picnic area and a pentagonal five-way swing that allows children to almost meet in the middle as they swing together through the air. The zone also has a large spinning net, a cable way and a large high climbing area, all of which pick up different facets of the air theme through play.

Other zones include equipment such as a 160 square metre castle, providing a play environment for younger children that encourages family participation, and the award winning Arcturus Constellation from the GALAXY range. This has a distinct sculptural shape, with elements designed to appeal to older children's imagination and abilities.

Ms De Brouwer again: "The adventure playground covers a very wide area and broad themes. And, even though it encompasses some large sculptural and innovative pieces that children won't have come across before, they find the playground very intuitive and easy to use." With up to 1,000 children visiting Magna each day, it is also important that the playground has enough interest and content to engage very large numbers of children at the same time. Consequently, the mix of equipment is designed to appeal to children of all ages and abilities, with an emphasis on pieces that do not demand any queuing. Ms De Brouwer particularly likes the variety of play opportunities provided: "There elements for those who like active or creative play, as well as pieces that have inbuilt seating for those who want to spectate rather than participate."

The adventure playground is designed to appeal across the whole age range from toddlers to teenagers. And, as Ms De Brouwer points out, "with college students using it as part of their curriculum, the area has a very broad appeal." So it may be that, as well as providing an award-winning environment for today's children, KOMPAN's adventure playground at Magna is also inspiring award-winning playground designers of the future.


Fast facts
Location: Rotherham, United Kingdom

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