The Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC) has announced the winners of the design competitions for the north and south hubs of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Congratulations to both winning teams, and commiserations to all the runners-up.
I was on the jury for the North hub competition. So naturally I am especially interested in the winners, whose prize is the chance to design what OPLC hopes will be one of London’s best playgrounds. Susanne Tutsch and Barbara Kaucky from erect architecture, Jennette Emory-Wallis from Land Use Consultants (LUC) and their colleagues made a compelling pitch. Their highly naturalistic landscape design, and understated, flexible building plan, are ambitious yet subtle, and should fit well in the wider park. The outdoor space has great potential to offer immersive, challenging, engaging play experiences. It also responds admirably to the growing concerns about children’s disconnection with nature.
These practices have been blazing a trail in play space design for a decade or more – indeed both featured in my September ‘playful places’ blog post. Erect’s public play area in Haggerston Park used bespoke structures and ground modelling to create a distinctive space, well before these techniques became fashionable (see their website for images). Erect also designed the RIBA-award-winning Kilburn Grange Adventure Playground, a wonderful community facility that has ripped up the rule-book for outdoor play space in adventure play contexts.
LUC’s design for the Diana, Princess of Wales memorial playground in Kensington Gardens was also years ahead of its time, with its rich planting, tree houses, tipis, extensive sand and water areas and a stunning replica pirate ship. It was a hit from the day it opened in 2000, and last year, over 800,000 visitors passed through its gates.
Realising the design team’s vision is not going to be easy. The build time is very tight, the confirmed budget is only enough to complete part of the plan, and the surrounding neighbourhood is set to be a building site for years to come. Nonetheless, I am optimistic; I doubt there are any more committed or more capable practices out there. I for one cannot wait to see the results.
UPDATE 20:25 pm – the news is even better for play – see my comment below about the involvement of UK practice PLAYLINK in the South Park team.