Choosing Materials

Proper design can make a facility easy and economical to maintain. A part of this design process is the choice of materials. The landscape architect realizes the importance of the choice of materials to be used in park-playground design. He must keep in mind the budget within which the park department is operating and also the proper quality of material to be used. Sometimes it is cheaper to choose what might seem to be a luxury because it will be more efficient and less costly over the long run in terms of maintenance and replacement. The park-playground design will include play equipment and facilities, appropriate ground-surfacing material, and landscape plantings and structures.

The play equipment or the area for games will depend on the age group and, to a certain extent, the predominant sex using the facilities. Selected lists of equipment and space requirements are presented in Tables 2 and 3. Choice of appropriate surfacing material for the play area will depend on the type of activity, density of traffic, seasons of use, and safety factors. Selections of material will also be subject to considerations of availability and cost, surface texture and appearance, and ease of installation and maintenance.

Table 2. Approximate Dimensions and Space Requirements for Small Children's Playground Equipment


Length (feet)

Height (feet)

Approximate space required (feet)

Space required (square feet)

Chair swings (set of 3)

10 at top


20 x 18


Chair swings (set of 6)

20 at top


20 x 30


Kindergarten slide


4 1/2

9 x 18





16 x 18



6 x 10 to 10 x 12


12 x 16
16 x 30


Table 3. Approximate Dimensions and Space Requirements for Playground Equipment for Children 6 to 10 Years Old


Length (feet)

Height (feet)

Approximate space required (feet)

Space required (square feet)

Circular traveling rings



25 (diameter)


Horizontal bar



12 x 20


Horizontal ladder


7 1/2

8 x 24



10 (diameter)







12 x 30


 Swings (set of 3)

15 at top


30 x 35


 Swings (set of 6)

 30 at top


 30 x 50



12-15 x 2 1/2

2 1/2

20 x 20


Traveling rings (set of 6)

40 at top


20 x 60



Landscape plantings should not be chosen just to beautify the area. Those plantings that are included in the design should be "working" plantings. They should perform a specific function and at the same time they should be carefully selected for qualities that will add beauty.

Some of the functions a plant can serve in a park-playground area include border protection, screening, pedestrian traffic control, space organization and definition, separation of play areas, and shading.

Border protection plantings are generally located along the property lines for one of two purposes. They may simply define the area of the park-playground. Trees spaced along the property line would accomplish this. They may also serve as protective plantings between the park-playground and adjacent streets and properties. Such plantings could include large shrubs and trees, depending on the degree of protection required.


Many times a park development using all standard recreational equipment falls short of its potential because the elements are not compatible with one another. In these illustrations, however, a unique land-use design is shown with separate play compartments for each type of equipment. The bottom picture, especially, indicates the structuring that carefully selected tree and shrub forms can afford in developing individual play spaces separated from adjoining equipment. Loose aggregate surfacing is used in all compartments.


In general it is better to leave the views from the park open, rather than solidly enclosed. A screen planting (a solid mass of one type of plant to give the effect of a wall) might be used to obscure an objectionable view or to provide a barrier in areas of potential safety hazards. An ideal shrub for a screen would be tall and narrow, but with heavy foliage to the ground. The height of the screen must be a compromise between the height needed for screening and the limitation of scale given by the area. To function effectively as a visual screen, the planting will have to be at least 6 feet high in order to block any object from view.

For pedestrian traffic control, for space organization and definition, and for separation of play areas, several different planting arrangements might be used. A clipped or unclipped hedge, a group planting, or a screen type of planting using either tall or low plants would be very effective.

In choosing a hedge, select plants that have dense foliage which cannot be seen through and which are able to survive close together. Hedges can either be clipped (formal) or unclipped (informal). The formal hedge requires a great deal of maintenance. If the hedge is being used to control movements of people, it is often advisable to select varieties that have thorns.

Group plantings aid in space definition and organization. The group planting is composed of several different plant varieties. For example, three or four plants that are similar in form, color, and texture can be combined to form the bulk of the planting. Group plantings should be interesting in outline and arrangement. A plant that offers contrast in form, texture, or color, such as a small tree, will add special interest to small groupings.

When shade trees are used, their location must be carefully determined to avoid interference with any special activities or sport areas in the park-playground. The tree planting should include a combination of small, flowering trees with medium and large varieties. Be sure to select trees that grow well in your area. Do not use trees that have "nuisance" litter, such as messy fruit, seed pods, and broken twigs. Do not select trees whose roots are heavy surface feeders. Such trees interfere with the growth of nearby lawn and plantings and cause pavement to heave. Finally, select those that are long-lived and resistant to ice and wind as well as to insects and disease.


In this playing field the designers have utilized the sculptural qualities of earth to create the mounds or berms seen in the left foreground and right background. These mounds serve as a safety device by separating the ball field from the adjacent streets, as a visual screen by masking the confusion of passing traffic, and as an esthetic element on a flat site.


Park furniture, such as picnic tables, waste receptacles, and benches, should be carefully designed to be visually appealing and yet sturdy enough to withstand hard use. This bench meets both requirements.

Using Materials and Equipment