Having described the principles of agility, flexibility, and proprioception, and explained the importance of multi-functional activities, colour variation, and moving parts, I finally wish to illustrate one of the best pieces of play equipment with which I have been involved, the Supernova. Here, Claus Isaksen of the design team succeeded in integrating some of the functions of a traditional merry-go-round with the movement and excitement to be found in skateboarding. The result is a product with a unique function, which includes all six of these key principles.
The concept of Supernova is one big moving part. It is a 30 cm wide ‘huggable’ ring (2 cm in diameter) that spins around on a 10 degree tilt. It is multi-functional as it can be used in many ways by a
single child or by a group of children. The younger children usually sit or lie on it and push each other in turns. I have also seen children using it in their games of chase where they keep their captives held in the centre of the ring. Older children use the Supernova for high-level competitive games, dancing back and forth, trying to force each other off, seeing who can stay on the longest. Because the Supernova is tilted, simply standing and balancing on the Supernova develops agility and stimulates flexibility. As children crawl under it, hop over it, and spring across it, they train their sense of proprioception.
There are seven coloured connection bands around the Supernova; one green rather than orange like the other six. There are several reasons for this. If all the bands were the same colour, it would be difficult to keep count of the number of rotations the Supernova makes. This numerical understanding is very important when competing with oneself or with others. The green band can also be used as a pointer. At times, children stand in
a ring around the Supernova and spin it to see to whom the green ring points, deciding whose turn it is next. All ages, including adults, use it as a moving bench on which to sit and socialize.
The Supernova transforms the children because it stimulates the development of agility, proprioception, and flexibility. It can also be transformed by the children, as they make choices as to how they will use it, what its function will be, and what the different colours will mean in the context of their game.
Throughout this chapter, I have focused on industrially manufactured play items because, in my view, such items can provide better play opportunities than natural elements, when used within controlled urban environments. These industrial products have the benefit of being designed and produced by a team of experts who
ensure critical factors such as safety, accessibility, play value, and durability are optimized through good design. In addition, crucially important details can be designed into each product, details that support the growth of specific areas of children’s development such as agility, proprioception, flexibility, ownership, imagination, invention, social awareness, and joy.
Yet despite all this, these products should be only one constituent part of the offer made to children within a well-designed play area. To be successful and fulfil the criteria that I consider important, the playground environment must be rich and diverse. A few other possible ingredients are: child-scaled features that replicate natural elements such as hills, valleys, and trees for climbing, complemented by natural additions such as grassed areas, cultivation zones, areas for sand and water play, and functional features such as sun shades. Most important is to create diverse landscapes for children that are made up of spaces designed in proportion to a child’s own size and developmental stage, spaces that are safe and inviting, spaces where all children can take part, spaces that inspire invention and wonder.
Special thanks to KOMPAN A/S and the Galaxy Connect Design Team (John Frank and Philip Laris) and to Milo Myers and Daniel Lee.
1 A Guide to the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Play areas, US Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, May 2001.
2 The Galaxy series was first released in 1998 and won the Danish Industrial Design Prize and the Japanese Good Design Award in 1999, the US Industrial Excellence Award in 1999 and 2002 and the Independent Living Design Award – an English award presented to exceptional design solutions that create an environment of inclusion between handicapped and non-handicapped children – in 2001, and the GaLaBau Innovations Medal in 2002.
Michael Laris was born in California and studied architecture at the State University before designing a number of experimental architectural projects. He worked in England and Denmark as a residential architect, educator and researcher. Since 1997, he has worked as a designer with Kompan A/S, an international playground equipment manufacturer based in Denmark. During this time he has co-authored a design guide for the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Play Areas and led the design team on the Kompan Galaxy play equipment range, which has won a number of awards including the US Industrial Excellence Award (1999 and 2002).
He is a keen amateur musician and is proud of his role as lead singer and rhythm guitarist with The Batos. He has two sons and lives in Denmark.