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February 2011 Playground Equipment

When architect Louis Sullivan made his "form follows function" statement in 1896, he set off a controversy creating debate for decades, not only in regards to his then-new concept of building tall skyscrapers, but in all areas of life. Form follows function has become a philosophical contention for everything extending beyond the architectural subject of which Sullivan was referring. Basically, the idea is if something must perform a specific function, it should be designed as fully as possible to support that function.

Not only has this idea transported a century later into our architecture, but also into our technology, our art, and our recreation our parks and places of play. No longer satisfied to plop a few swings and a slide into our public play areas and community parks, designers are creating places in which form follows function to a point of epic proportions. Facilities, specifically churches and synagogues, are beginning to utilize the environment, as well as the purpose of play, to allow new, interesting, and long-lasting designs in play equipment.

What makes a playground environmentally friendly?
We certainly are well aware of the need to go green. Environmentally friendly is a topic of great concern these days for anything and everything we use and playground equipment is no exception. Today's designers use recycled steel and composite lumber as well as concrete, a product that is not only partially recycled but recyclable as well. Cre8Play designer Todd Lehman explains that to be "environmentally friendly" not only refers to the products used, but to the way the equipment fits into the environment itself. The one-of-a-kind playgrounds Lehman designs are specially formatted to match the surroundings, with clients sending photos, tree bark, rock, and even dirt samples of the area so that every piece of equipment matches in color and texture to the nature of the area. The bark and moss on a tree trunk slide is exactly the same as the actual tree a few feet away.

How can you make your budget go farther?
With our economic woes, all areas of government and private sectors are trying to make financial cuts in order to meet budgets. That means making every dollar go as far as possible with greater purpose and accountability. So, one function church play areas must consider is providing durable, long-lasting equipment that will remain intact for years to come. How often will the area need replacing and repair? Not the typical plastics of yesterday, playgrounds created today are less likely to need maintenance and will last longer certainly a benefit for the financial dollar.

How can you make your playground unique?
Lehman explains that the uniqueness of each play area can make a religious facility stand out and be remembered. It also provides a certain level of excitement and anticipation in the minds of children.

Lehman said, "A child can go to any park and find the same basic traditional equipment, but when the concept is unique, they want to stay and play longer because it is special. It creates a new, different, and lasting learning experience."

How can your playground maximize physical activity, as well as imagination?
Certainly, a function of priority should be to provide an area that allows children to become healthy and happy human beings. That means maximizing physical activity while at the same time stimulating the imagination provide for both the body and the mind. It has been proven that a physically healthy child functions better in the classroom and has a longer attention span. So, one of the obvious functions of the play area would be to provide more activity for better health.

With the popularity of videos, computers, and basic sedentary inactivity, an inspirational play area is a priority for our generation of kids. But what about the creativity side the need to stimulate the imagination? The obvious master of creating an imaginative play area would be Walt Disney. His creativity sparked a new world of imagination for adults and children alike to immerse their whole being. The function here would be to allow children to use their minds through interaction and hands-on experiences, giving the child truly imaginative play. When both mind and body become a priority, the dollars spent becomes invaluable.

As always, one final function that must not be overlooked during play is compliance with today's strict safety standards. How can you provide equipment that not only offers physical and mental stimulation, but in a compliant way? Play equipment should be handicap-accessible but also built so even little brother/sister or grandma/grandpa can easily maneuver through the structure safely. Yet, the special nooks and crannies stimulate the imagination, creating hours of fun.

If form follows function, today's play areas are certainly fitting right in. Could it be that rather than "form follows function," it should be "form following function equals creativity?" After all, with so much a God's beauty in the world, why not use it for inspiration?

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Religious Product News