Located within Centennial Parklands Learning Centre, Sydney, The Ian Potter Children’s WILD PLAY Garden (WILD PLAY) is designed as a learning experience for kids and their carers. Its botanical adventure covers 6,500 square metres with tracks and trails winding through densely planted mounds of shrubs and trees, with existing fig trees incorporated for seating and shade. Situated within a large established park land dominated by grand tree lined avenues, undulating topography and ponds, this playspace seeks to bring a more intimate appreciation of nature. Nestled in a gully and a little removed from the main path, the site feels protected and special. A small pavilion and community nursery provide the base for a program of education grounded in ecology and indigenous culture.
The new playspace is one of Sydney’s most densely vegetated landscapes in an urban area, where over 13,000 trees, shrubs, succulents, grasses and ground covers have been planted to mature into unique plant communities that define the different play spaces. Of the 22 tree and 57 understorey species used, more than half are native to Australia, most being endemic to Sydney. Working with the site’s established trees, our design focused on the careful placement of new plants to frame a journey and create a rich Variety of spaces through a series of zones; The Bamboo Forest is a dense grove which encompasses bespoke play structures; The Jungle sits under existing eucalypts, thick with ferns and large leafed Ficus lyrata and great for unstructured plan; atop the huge rocky outcrop is a Prehistoric Zone which uses a variety of peculiar and strikingly odd trees Beaucarnea recurvata and Dracaena draco; in the Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub Zone local plant communities drape over a framework of bamboo tunnels. The mass planting provides a richly textured backdrop to a series of more structured interventions and encourages a sensation of being in the ‘wild’ free to explore and inviting to discover.
Anecdotally, it is known that children’s relationship to the outdoors has been steadily slipping since the dawn of the digital age. In 2010, it has been estimated that only 35 per cent of Australian children play outside every day, compared to 72 per cent a generation ago. Parents and educators call it ‘nature deficit disorder’, and its effects are detrimental. The benefits of exposure to natural environments can’t be underestimated.
Outdoor education shifts our attentions from screens to enable us to reconnect with our senses including sound, touch and scent (which are somewhat neglected in modern life). We sought to create a landscape that enables these connections. Fast become a family favourite, drawing people repeatedly and in far greater numbers than anticipated attracting 250,000 visitors since November 2017. With around 100 primary schools, 100 childcare centres and 58 Out of School Hours Care centres within 15 kilometres of Centennial Parklands (many of which have limited outdoor play areas or natural features) WILD PLAY is a welcome addition to the early education landscape of Sydney.
Entrant office name: ASPECT Studios
Role of the entrant in the project: Landscape Architect
Other designers involved in the design of landscape: n/a
Project location (Street, City, Country): Centennial Park, Sydney, Australia
Design year: 2017
Year Built: 2017