The Woodland Discovery Playground was designed by Shelby Farm Park Conservatory’s Master Plan design firm, James Corner Field Operations (JCFO), and the design process was anything but ordinary. To create the next great 21st century play landscape, SFPC and JCFO went straight to experts—local kids. The site for the Woodland Discovery Playground is situated on an existing twenty-year-old play area and edged by woodland that has been overtaken by Chinese Privet. The design of the playground capitalizes on its location with a woodland restoration project and significant new native plantings that enmesh the play space with its surroundings.
Within its wooded context, outdoor play at Shelby Farms Park will promote discovery, provoke challenges, embrace delight, encourage creativity, build relationships, and cultivate healthy children’s development. The new Woodland Discovery Playground will shape an environment that allows for change, transformation, and growth; that reflects theories about how children learn, develop, and play; and that meaningfully engages with the entire Memphis community.
The design for the Woodland Discovery Playground is intended to foster play and discovery, embracing fun and delight while cultivating healthy development of children’s physical and social well-being. Set within a natural woodland context, the Playground provides an environment that promotes interaction and engagement — children must enter, move around and look for opportunities to slide, climb, run, scramble, swing, build, find and discover. Building upon current research of forms of children’s developmental learning, the playground sets a new standard for the design of outdoor play environments.
The innovative design process began by going straight to the experts. Children—both those who are current park users and those who are not—participated in a creative public workshop meant to distill the essence of outdoor play, and to ask children what makes a playground great. Adventure, discovery, health, nature, fun and surprises—criteria determined during the public workshop—were all central to the design of the Woodland Discovery Playground.
The main feature of the playground is a meandering arbor planted with native woody trees and vines. The arbor links and frames 6 outdoor play rooms, or ‘Nests.’ From slides and swings to nets suspended from trees, these mounds and hollows offer a rich series of play experiences that maximize spatial and sensory experiences, while targeting children’s different ages, developmental abilities and interests. Together, the arbor and the nests provide a fun-filled sequence of “hide-and-seek” places in a beautiful natural setting.
The playground is on track to be among the very first projects to meet ambitious SITES™ performance benchmarks for ecological and human well-being. The Sustainable Sites Initiative® aims to change the world of landscapes by creating a voluntary rating system on par with the LEED® ratings for green buildings. Pilot projects like the Woodland Discovery Playground show that the SITES™ guidelines are already helping to create more sustainable landscapes.
Images & Text © James Corner Field Operations