This week we had an opportunity to meet with all the Co-op teachers and staff to present our final drawings and models from last term.  Many people had a chance to see them on the blog and it was nice to hear all their feedback in person.  We got some great advice about elements on the playground and are so excited to get our hands dirty building.

Joining Team Playscape for the build portion of our year are two new members.  Marc and Billy have enthusiastically taken on this project and we are sure they will soon become familiar faces around the Co-op.  As part of our new term we have assigned roles to all of our members which include:

Project Manager: Brook

Procurement Manager: Marc

Project Director: Jon

Project Superintendent: Jessica

Project Engineers: Gideon and Brian

Work Group Leads: Lauren and Billy

We are pushing forward with getting everything ready to build and are hoping to be out on the site soon, marking the site for regrading, demoing parts of the playground and generally prepping the site for all the work that is to come.


Howdy, folks. Sorry for the lack of posts lately. We had been scrambling to get all of our drawings done for our final review, and now most of us are taking a much needed vacation before we BUILD!

Here is the breakdown of our plans at the moment. This is a design/build studio, which means a great deal of the build process will also involve design, then redesign, crazy changes, things we didn’t anticipate…and further building. It will all be a learning process, and we’re excited to get started. So, here we go…

This is the plan so far. Numbers correspond to different interventions listed below.


1. The Dry Creek Bed and Rain Garden: In order to keep the site from flooding, we will attempt to exaggerate its present elevation changes to direct water into a shallow ditch, which will then travel underground between the planter beds and concrete, and spill out into a planted rain garden. This will allow for access to the playscape after heavy rain, and provide the kids with an opportunity to witness natural drainage systems, and potentially play with the water for a short period.

2. The Complete Bike Loop: Taking precedent from where everyone currently rides their bikes, we decided to use a combination of asphalt and textured wood decking to create a dynamic path for the bike lovers on the playscape. On the more detailed planting plan (below), you can see how our clever landscape architecture student (Vanessa Walton), has implemented the use of plants to act a natural barrier for the path…which means riders will have to stay on it, and hopefully this will help prevent bike/pedestrian collisions. During our final review, we heard suggestions to make the path wider at certain intervals, in order to allow passing. We will also be reducing the amount of decked path on curved portions to prevent slipping.

3. The Crow’s Nest: This is still up in the air for now. We’ve decided to keep much of the existing concrete foundation, provided it is deemed suitable for the structure. The eastern portion near the planter beds will be decked over to create an actual “crow’s nest” feel on the high point of the site. The remaineder of the space will be nestled beneath a lamella structure (a type of wooden lattice construction). We have several concerns here. First, this is supposed to act as the rainwater catchment system, and we intend to somehow hook up gutters to feed into two rain barrels (one next to the planter beds, the other next to the sandbox). As it stands, the rainwater catchment details are unresolved, and this element will continue to be designed throughout Spring term. Next, is the thought that kids might want to climb on this structure. In our renderings, you’ll notice that the roofing material does not meet the ground, which means there is opportunity for hands and feet to make their way up the structure for about 3 feet. While we realize the the kids are well supervised on the playscape, we also understand that telling them not to do something means daring them to do it. Lastly, this is a complicated construction, and we have to do many tedious structural calculations to size the members properly, etc. It will also need a city permit, and have to be approved by UO Housing before we can start building. While the lamella structure is beautiful, and would present a great learning opportunity for us, it may yet be too complicated for us to continue with it. In that case, a simplified structure will later be proposed. None-the-less, the area of the crow’s nest has been deemed as our rainwater catchment, and will be roofed regardless.

A perspective rendering of the structure from the school-age classroom…


In this one, you can see the added foundation on the north side. This will allow for a small “ground-level” entrance next to the planter beds.


This interior view highlights the beauty of the lamella construction, and shows the steps to the decked portion, as well as a small bench.


3b. Totems: Stemming off of the crow’s nest centerpiece are what we call “Totems.” These are fixed elements throughout the playscape in the form of short wooden poles with holes and notches in them. They will allow the kids to manipulate the environment by stringing ropes, sticks, pulleys, etc. through them in different ways across the space. They will also provide for interaction between different elements on the playscape, such as the fence and the sandbox, or the sandbox and the crow’s nest…


4. Log Climbing: We wanted to address climbing in a non-traditional way, so instead of just going up, the kids can go up, down, forward, over, under (stop, dig, jump, crawl, hide, sit…). This is our way of creating “fully body, full mind” climbing. We will be using a number of unmilled, untreated logs from the Millrace in Springfield to put this together. This means they will rot over time, and require eventual maintenance/replacement. It will literally be something that the children could find in the middle of the woods on a hike – essentially, just a pile of logs. Logs have become a repeating element in our plan, actually. You may notice them as “steps” to get onto the crow’s nest as well.

Here is an early sketch of our climbing idea…


And a basic construction detail…


5. The Two-Tier Sandbox: We like the current sandbox for its size, and natural-looking log barriers. What we don’t like is the awkward space between it and the crow’s nest. In an effort to connect the two, we simply decided to create a second sandbox level. This site section (looking west) might be a bit more descriptive…


6. Toddler Hill: Based on our observations, not a lot needed to change on the toddler/wobbler playscape. Mostly, we needed to solve the issue of water puddling towards the western side. We intend on creating a shallow elevation in order to direct a drainage path, and provide a slight climbing element for the little tykes. This is the extend of our planned elevations for that side of the site. We still have big ideas rolling around, but there was only so much we could design in 9 weeks, and only so much we can build during Spring term. Suggestions are more than welcome (that goes for everything).

7. Zen Zone: In the Stan Jones redesign of this site, there was a Willow Hut here. We want it back. Right now, it’s an extension of the rain garden, and will only be successful with proper maintenance from the Co-Op staff. For now, we at least know that we want this area to be highly planted, to provide both a refuge for quiet play, and a shady spot. Here is our detailed planting plan (it’s a big file, so if you click, you’ll have to wait a minute).Image

8. Sherwood Swamp: We think this area of the site is working well currently, and have decided to leave it untouched for now. We think our drainage system will allow it to become a bit muddier, which means MORE WORMS! Because of our topographic interventions, we will have to ask the Co-Op staff to discourage the children from digging on most areas of the playscape…but not Sherwood Swamp. This is the explorer zone.

9. Potential – Musical Fence: We think there should be more interaction between the two playscapes, as well as music on the site. This is only an idea right now. Time and money will decide if we are able to implement it in the future…Image

10. Potential –  Planter Beds: We’d like to replace the current planter beds on the site with something a bit more kid friendly that connects to the crow’s nest deck. It will also be a good use of our Millrace Logs, but its construction will be decided by time and money as well…


Glad I finally logged these images. Stick around for more as we branch into next term.

Site Model

We are quickly approaching our final design review on Monday, and the above model shows most of our planned interventions.  The flags are placed according to specific locations for which detailed construction documents are being prepared.  While the design stands to change a bit during the build phase (hence the term design/build) we would like to get it as well worked out as possible before we begin work on site.  below is a smaller model showing the atmosphere of the site created by plants that we intend to install.

Plant model

Potential view of the playscape from covered area

Lately, our design for the structure above the crow’s nest has become focused on the development of a lamella roof that brings the roof down to the ground and creates a sense of enclosure on one side.  In this structure, small pieces connect to describe a cylindrical plane.  Below you can see some of our latest scale models.  Rain catchment would occur in gutters on either side that channel water into barrels that can then be directed to either the sandboxes or the planter beds.

Lamella structure

Roof sheathing leaves structure partially exposed

The bare structure

Mock up - rain garden and structure

Recently we went on site as a team altogether to see how our ideas felt at full scale.  This involved some lightweight wood posts to imitate the planned structure to be built above the crow’s nest, and some shovel-drawn lines in the dirt to mock up dimensions of our ground plane changes.  In the above photo you can see where we plan to have a rain garden and a path running through the middle of it.  Our dimensions ended up not being too far off but now we have an experience in our mind to reference as we further develop our ideas.  Mocking up the design also clearly showed us places in the design we had not given much thought.  If only we had picked a drier day!  Also, below you can see our experiments with mechanical kinetic play elements that may be implemented in tandem with the structure.

Mock up on site at full scale

Mock up on site at full scale

Pulley crank

Pulley crank

Confirmation that we may dig safely without disrupting utilities

Based on our response to the call we put out to local utilities we have not found anything that would majorly impede our excavation of the site.  We may find some PVC pipes but nothing that wouldn’t be relatively easy to repair or replace.

4 options for the crow's nest

Back in the studio, we took a look at a few options for the roof and structure planned for the crow’s nest.  The forms vary quite a bit but some ideas seem to be shared – dividing the space into two levels, not covering the entire area, and retaining some of the existing walls.

One model on the site


Jon looking investigating the ground below our proposed creek bed

Our planning of the topographical changes to the site and how they play into our proposed drainage demanded that we take a look at the quality of existing soil.  Our tests involved visually inspecting the layers of soil and filling up holes with water to measure the speed of infiltration.  A slow rate would require us to amend the soil in order to install a rain garden, a faster rate would allow greater leeway for planting.  We found that water infiltrated quite quickly (as fast as 1″/minute) in the places we checked.  We still plan to amend the soil where we will place new plants on the site to give them the greatest chance of survival.  One interesting lesson from the day was that we really have no way of knowing what is in the soil prior to digging – unexpected layers are in place from previous designs (rock, geotextile, concrete, mulch) that we may have to alter to allow for the full depth of our drainage solutions.

Measuring the speed at which water infiltrates the soil.