Member: Cormac McCarthy for City of Banyule
Wyreena Community Arts Centre is an imaginative, all abilities playspace that captures the creative essence of the local community. Utilising heritage listed shade trees and developed through robust community engagement, the sustainable playspace celebrates the Centre’s history, providing a unique space that children and families enjoy.
The large heritage listed oak trees and exotic garden created an inviting, compact and well shaded area close to the Community Arts Centre and café. To create a fully accessible site with elevated play items, a curving ramp was integrated into the new path network, allowing wheelchair access to a large circular deck containing multiple interactive sensory elements.
The pedestrian gateway into the site provided another opportunity for an artwork, this time tapping into the creativity of local residents.
A major challenge with this playspace was having to work amongst the existing trees without damaging them, as they provide vital shade and ambience to the site. Various footing techniques were explored to allow structures to be located within tree root zones with minimal impact. The careful placement of all major footings was undertaken by hand digging to avoid any damage to tree roots.
Council wanted to ensure there was robust and thorough community engagement undertaken throughout the entire project. To facilitate this process, a detailed consultation and communication plan was developed and community consultation company who specialises in playspaces assisted Council in the design process.
Our target audience for this playspace was toddlers and primary school children, so Council sought engagement that would ensure their voices and ideas were clearly heard.
Furthering this sense of local connection, carved timber animals were created on site over a three-week period by the artist who facilitated the earlier community workshops. Members of the community were encouraged to come and observe the process and engage with the artist, resulting in a greater sense of ownership and connection to the project. Throughout construction of the playspace, regular updates were posted on social media, in newspaper articles, onsite posters and Council’s website to keep the community informed and generate further interest in the playspace’s progress.
The whole project was a demonstration of collaboration between many stakeholders. The level of financial and design support from the wide range of stakeholders was instrumental in the success of this project. It ensured all ideas were canvassed, with many being incorporated into the final design. These partners also played a key role in the community engagement process, using their networks to ensure as wide an audience as possible was reached.
Creating wheelchair access to the whole site was a critical consideration in the design, especially as the Centre runs programs for people with disabilities. This was achieved by building new access paths and timber ramps to the play structure, incorporating artificial turf and areas of rubber softfall. In addition to ensuring full access to the main structure, it was vital to create inclusive play experiences for all abilities. To support this, most of the sensory elements are set at appropriate heights for wheelchairs and are integrated with the other play items that are accessible including swings, rockers and spinners.
Considerable thought went into the selection of all the playspace elements to ensure they were durable and if possible made from recycled materials. A large number of logs that had been saved from other Council works projects were utilised for the carved animal sculptures. The use of a small area of artificial turf was a deliberate choice in order to provide an all-weather surface for picnics and play since establishing and maintaining natural grass in this high use, shaded area would have required committing considerable ongoing maintenance hours and resources. The use of porous, fibreglass reinforced plastic mesh panels on the under tree decking ensured no ongoing maintenance or renewal would be necessary while also protecting the health of the heritage tree.
Ensuring that the whole design was low maintenance was critical to its success due to high use and limited resources. With this in mind, all the new plantings were protected by low impact fencing; all timber placed in ground was treated to prevent rotting; and some furniture was cleaned and reused. Protection of all the existing trees and planting new trees was vital to the ongoing sustainability of the facility, providing shade, natural play opportunities and amenity.
The holistic process of community stakeholder engagement and design was a significant achievement for this project, generating increased awareness and involvement from residents, user groups, the local school and visitors to the Centre.
Maintaining and even celebrating the varied history and heritage of the site through this project was another notable achievement. Briefing the designer and artists on the site’s background and historical significance ensured that these elements were captured in their designs.
The success and popularity of the playspace has been incredible since its opening, with children and families enjoying the space all throughout the day. The feedback from all users has been incredibly positive and the increased duration of visitor stays is a clear indication of the captivating nature of this unique playspace.
The synthetic turf and softfall path's under the shade of the heritage trees. Many of the timber sculptures also incorporated other artforms including metalltic animals and 'magic' telescopes.
The creative new gateway to the playspace utilises ceramic birds that were created on site in the Wyreena Community Arts Centre Pottery Studio.
More unique artworks in place within the main deck of the playspace.
The playspace success is evident in the higher usage and increased duration of visits from families and children.
Community engagement with Ruskin Park Primary School students utilising engagment skills actors dressed as wizards and elves.