The Pod Playground, Canberra, Australia

Australia has a new National Arboretum. Located in Canberra, this important cultural facility is host to 100 forests of rare and endangered trees from around the world. This legacy project with important environmental and conservation messages will live beyond our lifetimes.

The opportunity to design a playspace as part of the 100 forests facility offered an opportunity to creatively engage children with the beauty of trees and foster a life-long connection to this remarkable environment.

Using the idea of seeds as the beginning life amongst the forest, children and their families can enter a fantasy world of exaggerated scales. A playspace with giant acorns floating in the sky, and enormous banksia cones nestled on the forest floor.

Six acorn tree houses, six banksia cubby houses, a large custom designed fishing net, swings and planting beds form an intrinsic learning experience for children aged 0 – 12 years of age.

A fundamental element to the success of the playground was to create a playground that was true to its context and pushed the boundaries of play through the development of bespoke playspace. The design team were familiar with conventional, play notions, equipment and materials. We transformed and morphed these conventions and applied them to a new form. The team were interested in creating a flexible playspace, able to be appropriated in a number of ways that challenged the way children interact with an object, use their imagination and encourage freedom of play.

The design recognises that play is a vital social development and educational tool for children of all ages, and is particularly important when it assists in forming relationships to its landscape, climate and surrounding context. The world amongst the giant seeds aims to stimulate spontaneity and creativity, to foster the imagination and to challenge and encourage confidence with growth.

Within the arboretum sits a large copse of cork oaks. This copse was planted in 1917 at the instigation of Walter Burley Griffin and has been periodically harvested for cork ever since. The play space takes inspiration from this forest of oaks and has catapulted their acorns from their forest floor to land atop of a hill, somewhat larger. Here, they rest, taking on anthropomorphic qualities.

The acorn area of the play space consists of the storm acorn, the scary acorn, the lookout acorn. Each themed with customised play items such as portholes with insects, thunder sound panels, rain and hail tubes and wind chimes. Kaleidoscopes sit within the lookout acorn, perched five metres above the ground balancing elegantly on it its kneed steel posts. The three other acorns contain custom made slides, ladders, sliding poles and rope tunnels, creating an elevated play route for more senior age groups. On the ground plane below, boulder climbing walls, a clambering net and blackboards rest within a sculpted wall.

A combination of Pinus macrocarpus timber battens and red cedar shingles clad a delicate steel finned fame. A clever structural solution put to TCL by Agency of Sculpture during the fabrication process.

The toddler play area draws inspiration from Australia’s weird and wonderful native flora. Glass reinforced concrete Banksia seed pods rest within a sand pit with banksia seed ‚lips’ attached to the external forms, inviting children’s curiosity to these strange looking creatures.

Here, toddlers are invited to dig, bury and make noise. Bamboo chimes, bongo drums and a thongophone animate the play structures.
A large custom designed fishing net and birds nest swings provide elevated views to the broader arboretum, strategically placed adjacent to the Central Valley and in orientation to the Arboretums large sculpture entitled, ’wide brown land’.

The playground aims to pursue wonder, imagination and enchantment. It was designed to encourage flexibility and spontaneity in play. The play space challenges the conventional idea of play environments and demonstrates how a play destination can not only meet stringent play standards yet offer a unique play experience for all.

It is the result of a brave and trusting client and a collaborative group of designers, artisans, sculptors, fabricators, contractors and play suppliers.

Project Credits
Designer: Taylor Cullity Lethlean
Image Credits: Brett Boardman / Gemma Fennell