Many people remember the days of freestanding slides, swings and monkey bars. But in 1967, that idea of playground design advanced to interconnected play components. The revolutionary idea of combining playground activities is known as the continuous play concept, which was created by our Cofounder Steve King. As his final thesis project at Iowa State University, Steve developed a system that linked play activities together to provide a continuous challenge for children. His premise was that if kids are together on one structure, they’ll learn things that they will use in real life like social and conflict-resolution skills.
While his thesis only scored him a C+ grade, Steve took his continuous play concept to his first job as a landscape architect specializing in park planning. In 1969, he was assigned a playground design project for the City of Minneapolis where he was able to put his approach in action. His first playground was a success, which lead to more interest. And in April 1971, Steve and Barb obtained a $1,000 loan and incorporated Landscape Structures to design and build playstructures. See our company timeline here.
In an effort to provide great play experiences for kids, Landscape Structures has always been committed to innovation. Hedra®, one of our more recent inventions, allows kids to safely navigate via their own intuition and curiosity, and invent routes, games and imaginary environments. Our long-standing commitment to inclusive play is breaking barriers with the new We-Go-Swing™, the first no-transfer inclusive swing that can be integrated directly into the playground setting. Even more, the use of innovative materials and the development of colors that are truly inspired by nature is changing the world of playgrounds.
As Landscape Structures moves into its 50th year of business, we’re taking time to reflect on the power of play. We know that play and recreation has far more value than just being fun; it is essential for the health and wellbeing of communities. And that’s why our team—nearly 500 employees and the network of more than 200 playground consultants worldwide—is proud to provide unique play opportunities for all ages, abilities and backgrounds. Because no matter what’s happening in the world, we will always come back to play.
Earlier this year, the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) awarded more than $100,000 to 17 outstanding students for its 2020 scholarship season. The scholarships and fellowships support the next generation of designers by rewarding superior student performance, encouraging diversity, supporting original research and assisting students with unmet financial need.
One of those awards is the Steven G. King Play Environments Scholarship, which was created by Cofounder and Chairman of Landscape Structures, Steve King, FASLA, and the inventor of the continuous play concept.
The purpose of the scholarship is to recognize a student who has high potential in the design of play environments. This student must show an interest in the value of integrating playgrounds into parks, schools and other play environments and understand the significant social and educational value of play. Key qualities in the student receiving the Scholarship are creativity, openness to innovation, and a demonstrated interest in park and playground planning.
This year’s recipient of the Steven G. King Play Environments Scholarship is Allyson Fairweather. This past May, Allyson received a Master’s of Landscape Architecture from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and is working part-time at Wright Ostermier Landscape Architects. We were happy to sit down with Allyson earlier this summer to hear more about her interest in landscape architecture, and the project she submitted as part of her scholarship application.
Last spring, Allyson took a research class and was interested in studying if there was a relationship between an adult affinity for nature and how much time that adult spent playing in nature as a child.
“I was excited to discover that there is evidence to suggest that children that play outdoors in nature exhibit more environmentally responsible behaviors, greater nature inquiry, great awareness of ecological process and greater environmental stewardship,” Allyson explained.
In her research, the term “nature playscape” popped up a lot. She learned that a nature playscape is an outdoor play space that is specifically designed to connect children to the natural environment and included elements such as water, plants, soil and incorporated wild life.
“As a child, I played outside all the time,” Allyson shared. “I was always on my hands and knees in the dirt playing with bugs, collecting flowers and leaves, and running around in my parents’ garden. I have more memories of that than I do hanging out on a swing set. And now as an adult, I love the outdoors. So that’s what sparked my interest in this subject.”
Through her connection to adjunct professor and Principal at Wright Ostermier Landscape Architects, Emily Wright, Allyson was made aware of a playground redesign project at The Bement School, a small, co-ed day and boarding school for kindergarten through grade 9 in historic Deerfield, Mass. The school, nestled below the Pocumtuck Range and flanked by the Deerfield River, has a beautiful, rural environment. Their existing playground was outdated and disconnected—scattered throughout campus. And upon further conversations, Allyson learned that the playground equipment wasn’t challenging enough for the range of students using it.
Allyson met with the playground committee—two school administrators and a teacher—a few different times. Initially, she visited the site to understand the space. Then she held two workshops—one for the playground committee and a second one for a small group of students in grades 3, 4, 5 and 7.
“The ultimate goal of these workshops was to understand how the play space was used, what the school community liked or didn’t like, and their vision of how it could be improved,” explained Allyson. “We prompted the adults with questions for discussion, but for the students we planned a more interactive exercise using a printed map of campus and inspirational photos. The students used stickers to vote for favorite pictures of nature play spaces.”
Allyson explained that the kids’ favorite photo was a playstructure embedded into a hillside because it appeared challenging and the students could imagine many creative ways to play there.
“A large part of this project was engaging with The Bement School community,” Allyson said. “They loved being a part of this project and kept asking when we were going to come back.”
After compiling all of the feedback into a report, Allyson started laying out the design of the nature playscape.
“One of the first things I did with this design was start with a continuous accessible path that circulated through the entire play space to create a boundary that unifies the play area. I tried to accommodate a range of ages and abilities in the play equipment. We imagined the playground would be created out of locally sourced black locusts because it’s really strong, sturdy wood that doesn’t splinter.”
Of course, they were tasked with blending the nature-inspired elements with more traditional playground features like foursquare and basketball courts, and swings. They included those elements but oriented them at angles that give different views of the soccer fields, the play area and the surrounding landscape.
“The committee wanted to include a tire swing as it helped demonstrate one of The Bement School’s core values, collaboration,” Allyson explained. “Older kids help younger kids up onto the tire swing so it presents an opportunity for different age groups to interact and build friendships. We really appreciated their observation and positioned the tire swing in the space between two different play zones so both age groups can meet in the middle.”
In addition, it was important to include quiet areas for older kids. Picnic tables and boulders were positioned throughout the play space to offer hangout spaces. Integrated plantings, boulders and rain gardens were woven throughout the play space to extend learning to the playground.
“We presented the nature playscape to The Bement School in January 2020, and they loved it,” said Allyson. “They hope to invest in the project in the future.”
We hope to see this project come to fruition, and to see what types of playscapes Allyson completes in her future career. Congratulations, Allyson, on your scholarship!
For us, design refers to what a playstructure looks like as much as it does to the play value built into it. We simply cannot design one without the other. Play value is what creates return visitors. That’s why we design play environments to be newly fresh and exciting upon every visit. Go here to view and request a copy of the 2020 PLAY Book.
Deliver a hive of activity that sparks the imagination, facilitates discovery and lends itself to new adventure. See a few of the signature playground designs from our 2020 PLAY Book in action below.
Turn your destination playground into a legend. By design. Contact us to get started on your next playground design.
In 2016, we introduced Smart Play®: Venti™, a smartly designed playstructure that packs 20 exciting activities into its compact size. Today, we’re happy to have Tory Roff, concept designer at Landscape Structures, as our guest blogger discussing how he and the product development team created the newest addition to our Smart Play line of playstructures.
The idea for the Smart Play line of playstructures was more an ethos about playgrounds as a whole… about creating a cohesive play environment. The criteria for this playground solution was a small footprint and budget, but a desire to serve a large population. So, we started with a blank slate without any rules, and asked ourselves how to design an environment that invites a dynamic play experience.
The design started with the Cargo Net and strategically set the height of it so there is room for play underneath, allowing it to work as a trampoline above and it also acts as a hub for the rest of the play space. We built out from there in respect to circuits and routes so there are different ways to engage the whole of the system. Graduated challenge is built into Smart Play: Venti so that kids with a higher skill level can find challenges and still have a way to invent from it.
We spent a lot of time in the model space—virtual and scale models—working out the dimensions of the structure to really understand how every piece could be doing more. In modular playgrounds, a fire pole is always a fire pole. But good design considers what programming is happening around the fire pole so that kids can create another route and link two events as a cohesive experience rather than a series of segmented happenings. And that’s what’s happening with Smart Play: Venti. The Cabin Climber is an interior club house and an exterior ladder. The pods on the Cargo Net are a way-finding option through the structure, but also a place to stop and hang out. The Belt Hammock is a space for lounging, but also an escape route—it’s not big, it’s not obvious, but it is there.
I was able to talk with students at Birchview Elementary School while they played, and they talked about their friend, Michael, who uses a mobility device. They were excited that he can actually use this equipment, and how it’s his favorite on the playground. Because the design is less scripted, there’s less expectation of how a user actually engages it. Smart Play: Venti allows for more natural inclusion through the addition of many access points and a centralized hangout location, which was one of our primary goals during the design process.
There is enough variety of activities in the playstructure so that kids feel like they can fill in the blank however they want. As designers, we had ideas and hopes of how everything would play out. But you have to engage it from a place of humility and know that there isn’t such a thing as intended use. Kids are infinitely more creative than we are, so it’s important that we give them a platform to express that.
Designers: Tory Roff and Tom Keller, concept designers at Landscape Structures
Goal: Create a modern design aesthetic on the playground to match the recently updated school building
Solution: Birchview Elementary School’s Principal Sam Fredrickson chose to install the Smart Play®: Venti® playstructure because of its modern aesthetic and the fact that it would accommodate an entire classroom. Smart Play: Venti packs 20 activities—from nets and slides to belts and climbers—into its design, and its compact size requires less space and surfacing material than typical playgrounds. Even more, the playground is designed using a smart use of materials, and provides challenges that promote physical development and strategic thinking among students.
Read more about how Birchview Elementary School brought play and design into the 21st Century with the installation of their new school playground equipment.
In 2015, we collaborated with Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis, Tenn., to design a world-themed playground. Today, we’re happy to have Kara Barbour, head of lower school, as our guest blogger discussing how the school brought students into the playground planning process through their project-based curriculum.
At Lausanne Collegiate School, the Lower School (PK-4) engages in a daily block of project work. Each Lower School classroom is in charge of three projects throughout the year, dedicating six to eight weeks to each project. Our goal with this project-based learning was to get students asking questions and researching a particular topic.
The third grade classrooms are focused on inventions projects, during which they start to investigate how things are made, hear from entrepreneurs, etc. The students work in groups of three to four to come up with an invention, and then they go to the idea labs to start sketching things out and building prototypes to determine if their idea will work.
When we decided that we were going to install a new playground, we really wanted to get the students involved and decided the third graders and their inventions unit would be a perfect fit. Each of the small groups put together a proposal, and so many of their ideas were actually things that Landscape Structures had already started working on.
We first revealed the playground drawings to the third graders. They squealed with delight to see their ideas turned into reality. We then gave them the opportunity to share the drawings with the rest of the school during a student assembly, and even had a few students share the plans with the parent group. The third graders feel that the playground came to be because of the work that they did.
The playground opened in August 2015, just before school began, and the third graders took part in the official ribbon cutting. All of the students at Lausanne love the new playground—even fifth graders are attracted by it. It’s been quite the magnet for the entire community.
How do you #MakeYourMark on the playground? As an internationally diverse school, Lausanne Collegiate School aimed to demonstrate its global brand on the playground. See below for a few of the featured landmarks that represent the world, then visit playlsi.com to learn more about their world-themed playground design.
We helped Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis, Tenn., create a playground design to reflect their culture as an internationally diverse school. Hear from our custom playground designer, Jonah Scholen, about how he collaborated with the school to create the playground of their dreams. The end result? Students at Lausanne can run all over the world without ever touching the ground.
Steve King, our cofounder and chairman, released a book titled, A Legacy of Play, in January. In A Legacy of Play, readers take a journey through the unusual history of Landscape Structures, and learn how the company helped the playground industry evolve while keeping in mind the most important aspect of play—child development across all ages and abilities.
When Steve was a landscape architectural student at Iowa State University in the mid-1960s, he was eager to learn more about play and went to the Child Development Department to observe kids. Their behaviors—kids didn’t like standing in line to use the swings or slides; they wanted group activities—got him thinking. For Steve’s final project he designed a playstructure using the continuous play concept, which combines traditional playground equipment into an endless stream of activities.
Landscape Structures’ first sold playstructure.
In 1971, Steve and his late wife, Barb, cofounded Landscape Structures. We are headquartered in Delano, Minn., and proud to be a 100-percent employee-owned company. Since opening, Steve and Barb were committed to enhancing children’s lives by creating inspiring play experiences, a mission that all of us employees connect with and work towards.
Landscape Structures corporate headquarters in Delano, Minn.
Steve continues to serve as chairman of Landscape Structures and is a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects (FASLA). He served as chairman for the task group of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) that worked to develop accessibility standards to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), is a Certified Playground Safety Inspector, and a founding member and past president of IPEMA (International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association).
A Legacy of Play is available for order on amazon.com. The cost of the book is $14.95, and proceeds will go to the SEBA Foundation, the King family charitable foundation dedicated to environmental and children’s causes.