The Harmony Outdoor Area was created as a natural play space for public visitors to Dumfries House Estate incorporating the five fundamental elements; water, air, earth, fire and wood. It also acts as an outdoor learning space for the STEM education program based at the new Morphy Richards Engineering Building, so has a strong educational element whilst still focusing on play.
The brief stipulated that this outdoor play and learning space be designed in keeping with both the natural and the immediate built environment of a historic Grade A listed building. The client wanted to maintain the beauty of the woodland setting whilst accommodating up to 300 a day on public holidays, weekends and after school. The design had to be able to work unsupervised as a highly interactive and robust open access public realm space but with manageable low maintenance.
Designed and created by Timberplay Scotland Ltd the scheme was conceived to maximize the natural play value of the existing setting which sloped from an open meadow, through natural woodland down to a small fast running stream. Timberplay Scotland’s designer created an informal ‘terraced’ scheme to maintain and strengthen the original topography including the original mill lade. The layout limited the number of trees that had to be removed and also enabled productive use of a boggy, poor soil quality area. The design took in to account how both families and school groups might be able to co-use the space without little disturbance to either free play or structured teaching.
The bespoke feature activities including water and acoustic play, fire area and sand/earth building site are located to minimise plant disturbance and to create an active and dynamic flow in and around the space. The new features are ‘woven’ in and through the woodland setting to integrate nature and built environment in a sensitive and accessible way. The educational play and sensory equipment was selected to enable children to start exploring their environment and experiment with physical forces and states. The space offers rich and complex opportunities to interact with different materials and play with natural elements. Children can explore the earth element by playing with sand and mud, and learning about plant growth and willow dens. The Conference Telephones, Parabolic Reflectors, Dendrophone and Stone Xylophone allow children to play with sound, air and vibration. The covered water play area water includes innovative play elements Archimedes Screw and Nautilus Snail. As these children learn to manage the inherent risks of fire, water and other elements, parents come to understand and be reassured that any slips and scrapes are outweighed by the benefits. By learning to harness and play with these elements, the children also continue to manage and understand risk.
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