SHOW PLAY Set Up Day 78


Examining the role of play in the built environment for all ages.


Starting from the premise that play is first and foremost an attitude before it becomes an activity, this snapshot of Studio Egret West’s work demonstrates where play is an antidote to the rigid, repetitive actions of daily life. As our cities become denser, more efficient and now increasingly controlled due to the implications of the coronavirus pandemic, so too grows the imperative for our wellbeing to introduce impromptu opportunities to engage playfully with our surroundings.

As Urban Designers, Architects and Landscape Architects, we have the ability to amplify nature and craft moments of surprise and delight into the urban fabric which spark different forms of interaction, engaging people from all walks of life. We advocate for generosity at ground and lower levels - in the public realm and within buildings – for these invitational, multi layered and ‘playable’ moments to unfold. In doing so, we can lift community spirit and encourage people to better connect with the places that they work and live.

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Play can be for both young and adults alike, therefore it must be for everyone and we are to consider how play manifests itself to address this broader remit. It is certain that there are many examples of more inclusive contemporary placescapes today then there have been historically, a fact recognised by Lukas Feireiss’, (Going public, Public Architecture, Urbanism and interventions’, 2012).

Lukas brings the play element of culture and the form of play into strategic urban thinking and public realm planning, “The democratic public space was being destroyed by seemingly inexorable privatization of previously publicly owned spaces” but a decade on and he asserts that, “We are witnessing a local and global resurgence of so called public and collective space. Against the backdrop of these highly topical phenomena, the ongoing discussion has been expanded beyond traditional notions of public space to advocate the generation and facilitation of new spaces that act as flexible frameworks for the multiple opportunities and possibilities for social, political, and cultural change”.

Its relevance allows play to continue to manifest itself in adult life to encourage healthy social interaction. Play can have an important role in binding neighbourhoods together, growing communities and making them stronger. It is our attitude and instinct of play which alters.

This selection of images provides a visual glimpse into the cultural context for Play that has emerged through across the 20th and 21st Centuries, from Lowry to Parkur.

Playable Places

Playable interventions can be found in both the built as well as natural environment, ranging from small to large-scale, ephemeral to permanent, playful to formal, and from individual to collective actions.

The work of Studio Egret West considers play in all these forms; from the traditional playspace for children to playful landscapes for adults, we imprint opportunities for playfulness across all our urban frameworks and architecture.

Our following case studies distil some of these traits, encapsulating the design approaches we take to position play as a fundamental part of the places we create.

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The Rockery at The Hyde
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The Rockery at The Hyde

Outdoor play is essential for the wellbeing of children and adults alike. The landscape strategy for the Rockery has been designed with this multigenerational ethos in mind. Play is embedded into the design at all scales. What are so often ordinary and generic elements such as benches, paving and lighting can have play considered at no extra cost. Thus, the lighting strategy features recessed paving lights that, as well as illuminating a space for safety and wayfinding, tempt you to hop from light to light. These small interventions are not necessary but might just put a smile on someone’s face during their walk home. Subtle ‘Play on the way’ features for all ages are incorporated at ground level, beside footpaths, and across the raised public gardens in the form of stepping stones, balance beams and sculptural and climbable volumes.

Client Parkside Investments
Location Hendon, London
Role Architecture, Urban Design and Landscape
Status Planning

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Mayfield Park
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Mayfield Park

Sited at the heart of our framework for Mayfield, the 6.5 acre Mayfield Park will become the first public greenspace to be created in the city centre for over 100 years. It will feel large and verdant with a varying and accommodating design that offers something for everybody. A sequence of spaces will invite visitors on a journey of discovery, from informal through to more natural and wild an urban square with a buzz of activities; open greens for lawn sport and informal play; adventure play areas; floodable meadows and biodiverse ecological areas where children and adults can engage with the river. Small structures will provide sheltered spaces within the park to make the park inviting and fun to use in all weather conditions and during all seasons.

Client The Mayfield Partnership (U+I Group Plc, LCR, Manchester City Council, Transport for Greater Manchester)
Location Mayfield, Manchester
Role Architecture, Urban Design & Landscape
Status Detailed Planning Consent

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New Bermondsey
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New Bermondsey

In a hidden area of North Lewisham that is tucked behind surrounding railway embankments, we’re creating a thriving neighbourhood built around sports, wellbeing and the creative industries. Within a landscape composed of banks and steps, we’re incorporating a variety of playful destinations across the public realm. Both the existing communities that surround the site, and the new residents can enjoy natural playgrounds, areas with running tracks, fitness stations, water fountains and designated spaces for outdoor games. The delivery of the first phase will see a curvaceous, stepped podium immersed amongst dense verdant planting, with an organic approach to materials and forms.

Client Renewal
Location Lewisham, London
Role Architecture, Urban Design & Landscape
Status Planning

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Gramophone Grove at The Old Vinyl Factory
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Gramophone Grove at The Old Vinyl Factory

At The Old Vinyl Factory, a sequence of play spaces are distributed throughout the public realm to establish a playful narrative based on the sites unique musical history. Gramophone Grove represents the first completed phase, with four large scale gramophone sculptures, striped paving that imitates a stereo equaliser, and large disc shaped surface patterns that reflect vinyl records. Complimented by lush planting, we’ve crafted the space to encourage the wider site’s office workers, college students and visitors to engage with the landscape.

Client U+I plc
Location Hayes, London
Role Architecture, Urban Design & Landscape
Status Built

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The Library Building
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The Library Building

Upon completing the design of The Library Building in Clapham, we collaborated with the artist Andrew Logan to design two-metre-high mirrored letters spelling the word LIBRARY, embellished with mosaics incorporating items donated by local people. This artwork has become a distinctive feature on the high street offering a place to dwell and a seat or two to sit amongst the giant alphabet.

Inside, the library turns the traditional model on its head by placing the children’s library at the centre in a large multiuse 9m high space, perfect for storey telling, puppet shows and performance. With its irregular vertical apertures and geometric acoustic buffers on the ceiling, the central oval space alludes to a playful cubist metaphor for an external town square, and is wrapped by the library’s 12,000 books that are arranged around an audacious spiral ramp that doubles as seating and viewing platforms.

Client U+I Group plc, London Borough of Lewisham
Location Clapham, London
Role Architecture, Urban Design & Landscape
Status Built

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Millharbour Village
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Millharbour Village

In a neighbourhood that is seeing a dramatic rise in density, one that has divided local opinion, we’ve focussed on the public realm as a way to glue the place together. The public spaces have been designed to reflect the site’s history of the docking community by reintroducing the estuarine character, bringing ecology and generous open space back to Millharbour and Millwall Dock. This includes a destination playground which responds to the needs of a burgeoning family demographic; here an immersive environment is created, with rolling grassland meadows and play areas providing a varied natural space with levels of interaction for all ages. Three ‘grain’ towers are a prominent feature within the park - an ode to the site’s industrial past, they also give the development its own unique identity. Like a necklace, a tubular sculpture is draped around the grain towers and becomes an integrated and visually striking symbol of the play area.

Client Galliard Homes
Location Isle of Dogs, London
Role Architecture, Urban Design & Landscape
Status Detailed Planning Consent

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Murphy’s Yard

Murphy’s Yard presents a truly exciting placemaking opportunity to connect existing communities previously separated by industrial land. At the core of the vision for Murphy’s Yard is The Heathline, an urban extension of Hampstead Heath, inspired by its recreational value and plant communities. It is a sequence of unique public spaces, rain gardens and tree groves with playful interventions throughout. Across the entire site, a priority has been to provide safe and car free environments for playful streets and open spaces.

In the middle of the Heathline, there is a 10m level change, up and over a train tunnel. We have responded to this challenging constraint with ‘The Heath Cliff’, a series of fully accessible paths and ramps, immersed in robust heathland planting that can withstand ‘off road’ play such as climbing boulders, ropes and slides. The gateways into the site feature playable sculpture for memorable character and aid in wayfinding but also give opportunities for play in a space that would not ordinarily offer it.

Client Folgate Estates
Location Kentish Town, London
Role Architecture, Urban Design & Landscape
Status Planning

Cotton Quay

An existing Quay site connecting Manchester with Salford via the Metrolink tram is transformed into a new waterfront destination, focusing on play, leisure and exercise as key drivers for place-making. At the heart of our scheme, we are proposing a new multi-storey car park with a bouldering centre and full height climbing wall. The car park also provides an exciting rooftop Play-Park, offering a variety of play and exercise equipment for a range of age groups (including a running track, outdoor gym, group exercise zone and folded playscape). The Play-Park integrates a planting scheme inspired by the Peak District’s moorland character, and includes a platform offering open views towards Manchester.

At the ground and water level we are proposing a new outdoor swimming facility called the Barbadense Baths, which includes an open 50m pool, dedicated children’s pool, sunbathing terrace and changing facilities. The variety in activities and programmable spaces help to define Cotton Quay as a destination for leisure, in keeping with the framework and place-making principles.

Client Royalton and Frogmore
Location Salford
Role Architecture, Urban Design & Landscape
Status Hybrid Planning Consent

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Balfron Tower
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Balfron Tower

For our refurbishment of this Grade II* listed brutalist icon, some of our most fundamental place shaping interventions are happening at ground level – where landscape, public realm and building meet. Here, we’re reinstating Erno Goldfinger’s original vision for the sunken play area, making it playable again for a 21st century audience. We’re providing good supervision vantage points and softening the edges of the area, with lighting columns, varied gardens and moveable planters helping to bring the community back into this main external hub. Our proposals include a new slide down into the sunken play area with stepped access alongside, and we’re introducing new surfaces to the existing concrete slopes as well as a soft impact absorbent safety surface to the ground level. This is all tied together by a planted embankment which embodies our overall landscape concept - to heighten the contrast between concrete and nature.

Client Joint Venture between Londonewcastle, Telford Homes, and Poplar HARCA
Location Poplar, London
Role Architecture, Urban Design & Landscape
Status On site

The Shoal

Conceived as a series of tree-like forms, this 250-metre-long kinetic sculpture is a public realm intervention, designed to screen the view of a multi-storey car park and animate the public spaces around an existing 1970s shopping mall. The surface of giant ‘leaves’ mimics the scale and rhythm of the existing trees and re-establishes the urban continuity of the site. They rise and deform, to mark and celebrate the entrance to the Stratford Centre and continue on, beyond, to the old high street. Simultaneously we explored methods of expressing colour in The Shoal, both to harmonise with the tree pockets and aid wayfinding in the town centre.

Client London Borough of Newham, Stratford Renaissance Partnership
Location Stratford, London
Type Public realm
Status Built

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The Miniatora
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The Miniatora

For CanDoCo, an internationally renowned integrated dance company, we designed a 12m tall inflatable structure that the dancers could hold onto and the structure would move with them, becoming an amplification of their movements. Erected in Trafalgar Square for one day, the Miniatora performance was part of The Liberty Festival, an annual London festival that celebrates deaf and disabled artists. As an inflatable structure, it can be deployed at short notice and follow the dance company in their pursuit of sharing dance in different places with the public.

Client CanDoCo
Location Trafalgar Square, London
Type Meanwhile / event
Status Built

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Erith Primary School

Erith Primary School is the focal point of Erith Quarry; an ecological, residential-led development set to breathe new life into a disused quarry. Located at the entrance into this new community, the school’s pure circular footprint is embedded into the landscape, elevated above terraced communal spaces. The circular shape lends itself to a much more democratic building arrangement and provides space for a central, external courtyard, where a secure sanctuary for play and learning is created. The courtyard is a light and voluminous space defined by a faceted glass and timber louvre elevation, carved landscape and the sky.

Client Anderson Group
Location Bexley, London
Role Architecture, Urban Design & Landscape
Status Under construction Anderson Group

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