Since its founding nearly 20 years ago, Carve Landscape Architecture in the Netherlands has become one of the most interesting landscape architecture firms creating adventure-filled playgrounds. Their projects are immediately recognizable, with their use of bold colors, architectural forms, and incorporation of challenging obstacles, including steep-looking climbing objects and chutes and slides. Their embrace of strong forms and color and adventurous play makes the typical American playground, which has been made so safe out of the fear of lawsuits, look rather bland and tame in comparison. Their playgrounds are like parkour courses for kids, of all ages. Increasingly international, they’ve moved beyond the Netherlands to create exciting new projects in Turkey and Singapore.
In Istanbul, Turkey, Carve partnered with mutlti-disciplinary design firm WATG last year to create Zorlu Center playground, the largest in Istanbul. The result is a play space like no other, with a purple palette running throughout.
Carve and WATG created zones for different age groups, orchestrating a progression moving from simpler (and safer) zones for younger children to more challenging ones for older children. These zones are inspired by natural landforms, as Carve describes creating “hills, valleys, and mountains.” Using the best biophilic design principles, within the zones, there are both refuges, places where kids can hide out, and also prospects, like a net-filled climbing tower. And to the side of this adventure wonderland is a terrace where parents can socialize while also keeping an eye out.
The entry zone is for the youngest children. At Landezine, Carve explains: “The entrance area has gentle hills to climb on, slide down, and explore. On these hills, play-shapes host numerous elements for the smaller children, like trampolines, spinners, climbing nets, hammocks, and a slide.”
At the next stage, the hills become a valley. “Here, a hidden world can be explored: a bridge, giant netting structure, and a family slide, ready to be used by a whole bunch of children at the same time. The site is embraced by a natural landform, keeping children safe in the play area.”
And then the valleys become mountains. Rows of walls become opportunities for climbing, running, and sliding. “Together these walls act like a giant coulisse, which changes shape depending from one’s angle. It is an adventure to play here: a labyrinthian system of tunnels, sliding walls, ‘birds nests’ and lookout points and narrow alleys. Once you’re inside the mountain, there are numerous ways to get up to the highest point. The giant slide from the valley-landscape crawls up the hill, connecting both parts of the playground. In a roller-coaster slide of seconds, you’re in the heart of the playground again!”
At its height are two towers. The three-story tower, which is only accessible via the mountain range, includes a slide that takes kids back to the center of the playground. And the top of the second, a four-story tower, can only be reached via climbing nets within. What kid wouldn’t want to play here?
In Singapore last year, Carve created Interlace, a smaller bright-blue playground, modeled after the OMA-designed apartment blocks where most of the kids in the neighborhood live. “While most playgrounds are a contrast to their surroundings – in color, shape, and activity – the new Interlace playground is the mini-version of the surrounding residences.”
Within the blocks, there are kid-sized spaces that house a maze. “The ‘closed’ facade gives children the thrill of being invisible, while the perforations actually ensure looking both inside and outside. Also, the perforated facades allow for shading and a continuous wind breeze, creating a cool climate inside the boxes, while stretching the borders of the conception of inside-outside.”
And it’s worth highlighting Osdorp Oever, a playground Carve built in Amsterdam in 2013 that features a bright Dutch orange “climbing parkour” set between trees, with four “cocoons,” crossing points in the pathway.
At 15-feet off the ground, these pods are both “lounge hangout and lookout point.”