Integrating Natural Play Elements

by Lauren Evans

Nature play and the use of natural materials has been around since the infancy of Landscape Architecture, however I believe the integration of natural elements into playspace design over the last 10-20 years is a result of urban densification and the reduction of the size of standard house lots and backyards.  Nature play and immersion into that environment feeds our hunger for greener spaces and our desire to reconnect with nature.

Naturally inspired playspaces encourage children’s self-exploration and discovery, offering more opportunities to stimulate learning, creativity, and imagination while also strengthening their affinity with the elements that make up the space.  We know that children engaging more with nature is linked to reductions in stress while motivating them to be more physically active, independent and socially inclusive.  It gives them an appreciation for the natural environment and the understanding that multiple elements are required to create a working ecosystem. 

Through the use of organic materials such as hardwood Australian timber, resourced from sustainable forestry practices, we can design and build structures that add to the overall aesthetic of the space, creating a connection with the surrounding environment.  The inclusion of extensive plantings, spaces for rest and reflection, discovery walks and terraforming elements can deliver stunning vistas and enhance the overall fabric of the surrounding environment.

I believe that nature-inspired play and the increasing availability of these urban greenspaces encapsulates our increasing focus on environmental sustainability.  Councils and developers that invest in natural recreational spaces provide an important community-based demonstration of environmental stewardship and sustainable site design practices, showing us a path forward to a brighter future.  Holistic site development now integrates improved wildlife habitat conditions for local flora and fauna and adopting water sensitive urban design principles leads to improved water quality and reduced reliance on potable water to irrigate softscape areas.

For an exceptional example of how this works in a built environment, take a walk with me through Carver’s Reach. 

Centrally located between Brisbane City and the Gold Coast, Carver’s Reach is a boutique community, encompassing 6 hectares of weaving parkland and surrounded by an environmental biodiversity corridor. Designed to attract families who love to be close to parks, forest and creeks, an enchanting community playground was an important focus for the estate developers, Golden Gate Property.

Acting as a beacon to attract potential home buyers from near and far, the Mountain Tower integrates beautifully into the green space while adding scale and grandness to the surrounding environment.  Packed with play value over 4 levels, this 10m high tower offers multiple points of ingress for children over 6 years of age, with sliding options at different heights to test their daring. 

There is something for everyone in this space, from the carefully designed shelters and seating to the stunning entry statement featuring reclaimed timbers and an introduction to the settlers who first called Park Ridge home.  The revitalised storm water channel is now an aesthetic feature and an integral part of the rehabilitation of the surrounding environment that includes re-planting threatened local Bailey’s Cypress Pine species.

The entrance park is connected by meandering pathways to a second recreational area, which features an epic pre-school bike park, fenced dog park and stunning nature inspired playground.  With an integrated amenities block, multiple shelters and seating options, this space delivers a family-friendly social area for the people of Carver’s Reach.  Nature-inspired Rustik systems feature structural Australian hardwood timbers and a challenging net system, which is further complimented by embankment play and sliding fun.  An architectural swing system featuring opposing curved posts allows carers to swing with their toddlers, while the adjacent Australian hardwood timber log climber provides hours of climbing entertainment.

Masterplanned by Saunders Havill, construction was undertaken by SmartStone Group with Playscape Creations constructing the integrated playgrounds.

Want to learn more about nature-inspired play elements? See more of our Rustik Range or download the catalogue below.