Reconnect to Nature——Renovation of Hangzhou Children’s Park 

Today, a generation growing up in the environment of electronic products lacks contact with nature in life, leading to increased rates of obesity, attention disorders, and depression. This project aims to invite children to reconnect to nature, it fully retains and utilizes the existing original mountain forests and spring water resources for low-cost and micro-renovation transformation, turning the site’s rugged terrain disadvantage into an advantage, and making the journey itself an interesting nature path of exploration. In the post-epidemic era, this project is more popular among children and parents.




Project background

Hangzhou Children’s Park is located in the mountains and forests of the West Lake Scenic Area and it is adjacent to Hangzhou Zoo. It covers an area of 15 hectares, with a large terrain height difference of about 40 meters, which is mainly composed of two large valleys with lush vegetation and a spring of running water on the top of the mountain. The park was originally a garden with the theme of viewing sweet-scented osmanthus, and the classical style of central axis symmetry was difficult to coordinate with the vivid atmosphere of the children’s park. Therefore, the park director hopes to strengthen the lively elements of children through this renovation, and transform the park into a popular playground for teenagers and children. The renovation is carried out by point-like micro-renovation strategies due to the limited budget (about 1.3 million US dollars), and the renovation area is about 2.7 hectares.

Design Concept

Nature always gives children a broader and farther world, which is different from the family world given by parents, nor does it “steal” children’s time like TV. On the contrary, she can enrich children’s spiritual world.

In the post-epidemic era, we should pay more attention to the reconnection of children’s life and recreation to nature. Therefore, the design team decides to make full use of the natural features of the site, and carry out pragmatic and low-cost renovation strategies to recover the inherent connection between children and nature. With unpowered facilities, children can experience natural elements such as gravity, water, air, and sunlight, so that children can stimulate their instincts and improve their intelligence and fitness during the play process of climbing and jumping, catching insects and butterflies. At the same time, it solves the problem of insufficient inhabitant space in the adjacent zoo by innovatively introducing small animals to the park, which allows children to have close and intimate contact with small animals.

Major difficulties and solutions

1 How is it different from other children’s playgrounds?

Originally, the amusement items in the park were mainly electrical facilities, such as merry-go-rounds, small trains, swinging umbrellas, etc., which lacked features, and were seriously homogenized with the playground equipment of other theme parks in and around Hangzhou, which were less attractive to children.

This renovation is based on the existing mountain forest vegetation and mountain springs on the site, and is characterized by the theme of reconnecting to nature. First, the design takes advantage of the existing slope to arrange the Happy Hill that matches the terrain; second, it also optimizes the existing vegetation, creates a rock garden to attract butterflies by increasing the nectar plants; third, designers make full use of the mountain springs flowing down the mountain for landscaping, including the Water Theater and Water Park, so that children can stimulate their instincts and observe nature when they run and play in the water freely and catch butterflies and tadpoles. At the same time, small animals are introduced into the park. A cute animal garden is designed using various small terraces on the hillside, allowing cute animals such as red pandas, fennec foxes, meerkats, tortoises to inhabit natural habitats. Designers also consult animal experts for advice to reasonably design the viewing distance, which allows children to have close contact with small animals. These are the characteristics that distinguish Hangzhou Children’s Park from other children’s playgrounds.

2 How to solve the height difference of the site and attract children to go up the mountain?

Hangzhou Children’s Park is located on the slopes of mountains and forests with a steep slope. The vertical height difference from the entrance to the highest point of the park is about 40 meters. Children used to be very tired when going up the mountain. In addition, the original way up the mountain was a symmetrical and solemn grand staircase with an array of sculpture columns on both sides, making it even more difficult to attract children to go up the mountain. Before the renovation, the main flow of people in the park was concentrated around the square at the entrance, and the utilization rate of the large area in the higher position of the park was low.

This renovation strives to turn the disadvantage into an advantage, cleverly uses the height difference to create a small-scale, interesting and vivid space, and transforms the large steps of mountain climbing into the axis of natural experience (Happy Hill). The stone steps are replaced by gravel sleeper trails. The trails are set along the curve: sandpit slides are arranged on one side, and plastic climbing slopes and climbing nets are arranged on the other side according to the terrain, so as to provide children with a sloping space for climbing, rolling, and independent play. Additionally, a set of large staggered slides are set up on the grass slope. These designs make children no longer afraid of climbing up the mountain, but regard it as an interesting way to explore.

3 How to achieve a good result at a low cost?

This is a “big development, small investment” project, the project cost is 1.3 million US dollars. We proceed from the actual situation and adopt a series of strategies to reduce costs. First of all, we suggest the owner focus on the five major areas, including Water Theater, Happy Hill, Cute Animal Garden, Water Park, and Rock Garden, and try to make full use of the existing terrain and reserved objects; second, we take advantage of the dismantled stone from the original grand staircases, the intact material is used for rock garden paving and flower platform, and the broken material is crushed and used as sleeper gravel; third, we preserve the existing cherry blossom on the site and  transplant the plants that are too dense in other blocks, such as sweet-scented osmanthus (Osmanthus fragrans) and dwarf lilyturf (Ophiopogon japonicas), to the renovation block, so that the plants on both areas can grow healthily; finally, due to the problem of insufficient inhabitant space in the adjacent  zoo, the cute animal garden is introduced to create a new highlight for the Children’s Park at a low cost since the zoo covers the main relocation cost.

Conclusion

The renovation of old parks is more difficult than building new ones, and it also challenges the ability of designers. Through careful on-site investigation, designers sort out the existing site space, pipe network facilities, and vegetation communities, face the current and future trends of the children’s park, and carry out micro-renovation transformation with a pragmatic attitude. Take advantage of the change of height difference, create a small-scale vivid space, and guide children to feel the interest of nature; reasonably retain the old nodes and facilities to continue the historical memory, but properly integrate into the new space scene; make full use of the dismantled stone and broken materials during the construction process, and give them new functions to reduce the budget as well as protecting the environment. These are creative methods to discover a path to low-cost organic renewal of traditional parks.

It takes 8 years to finish this project, the client has changed 6 leaders , and the drawings have been revised many times before finally grounding, which shows the designers’ love and persistence. After the renovation, the number of people in the children’s park is more than 5 times that of the previous one. The concept of reconnecting to nature is welcomed and praised by parents. This is also the biggest compliment to the design team for 8 years of persistence.

Project Location: No.61 Hupao Road, Xihu District, Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China

Design year: 2014

Year Built: 2021

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