Topomotif is at the heart of the city of Romainville in the dense eastern suburbs of Paris, France.

The redevelopment of La Plaine Centrale into a park was a key part of the greater vision for urban renewal of the Cité Marcel Cachin neighborhood. A pedestrian zone framed by high-rise low-income housing, elementary schools, a family community center and a library, the site was already informally used by kids of all ages. There was an existing expanse of lawn and some toddler equipment but otherwise, the area lacked comfort, structure and outlets for quality physical and creative activity. Sensomoto’s goal was to revitalize this underutilized open space by creating a variety of new playful uses.

The Sensomoto design approach was based in a participatory process with the diverse community of kids and parents. Families collaborated through a series of design-build workshops that developed concepts for the playground. Workshops were set up in a sequence that guided participants from observation / collection, to ideas / collage and finally, to model building / prototypes. In between these sessions, Sensomoto incorporated input and elaborated the design for the next workshops. Many final ideas and details are a direct result of this participatory approach. Sensomoto translated its collective process into a public play space uniquely tailored for its public. And one that is full of fun.

The result is Topomotif: an exciting custom playground that encourages free play, creative experimentation and a positive sense of risk. Topomotif builds into the existing context’s density by offering a variety of opportunities for all kinds of play without prescribing activities.

Sensomoto teamed with artisan C-Cube and safety compliance Prélud to meticulously fabricate every aspect for adventure and meet safety standards. The play space is artful, abstract as well as emblematic, bringing kid-size scale to the environment. The design leaves a generous, flexible green space around the play structure, defined by smaller garden rooms layered with sensory perennials, custom benches and tables for parents and caretakers. Trees, chosen for biodiversity, are strategically placed for shade. Sustainable harvested wood construction warmly contrasts with the urban surroundings and gives intimate contact with a choice natural material. The ground plane is covered with bark mulch for fall zones and provides another natural element. Brilliant yellow metal and rope accents add more distinction and help guide kids to specific areas. Consecutive slopes, graphic facets and complex connections create a new landscape of imagination, imitating nature’s topography.

There are nine unique play modules that simultaneously accommodate assorted users and usages. As a group, the units are perceived as a cohesive space full of places for both individual and groups to climb, to cross, to hide, to slide, to relax, to swing. By themselves, the modules are specialized for the needs of different ages and abilities. Younger kids are invited to explore using hand and foot holds, equipped with a short slide on the other side. There are boxes and tracks for small hands to stock and transport small materials. Bigger kids are challenged to navigate different vertical walls, a lookout bridge, fire poles, a long double slide and rope courses. A basket swing provides a place for collective play. Bright geometric tunnels, built-in seating and a choice of niches in between become occasions for quieter play. Topomotif is a playground that allows for choice. Topomotif provides a menu of opportunities; the actual play is up to the endless creativity of kids.

This entirely public playground gives a new identity to the neighborhood and its smaller citizens. Topomotif immediately became a beloved feature and resource for healthy recreation for the community’s kids. It adds another vibrant layer to the energetic everyday life of the city. Topomotif is notably always open, welcoming kids – from next door and farther – to play in a landscape of possibilities.

Name of project: Topomotif
Project category: Schools and Playgrounds
Project location: Plaine Centrale Marcel Cachin, Romainville, France
Design year: 2017
Year Built: 2019


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