Designing the (Playground) Details

The phrase “the design is in the details” rings true to every Landscape Architect and Designer.  Sometimes the details are obvious and other times they are subtle or hidden, needing to be discovered. As Eames suggests, the details make the design, embedding meaning and creating connections.

Details are a focus at every stage of the design-build process; from concepts that deep dive into stories and meanings; to complex engineering connections, to safety considerations, to discoverable carvings of animals or birds that can be traced along logs and timbers.

Earthscape’s playground designers all have favourite details that have added depth to projects in different ways:



“The absence of a solid platform in the Humbertown towers is one of my favourite design details.  It’s easy for kids to climb from platform to platform but it makes route selection and choice that much more interesting when there are a variety of  tower ‘levels’ that are all unique and all have some movement and flex to them.” – Joost Van Haaster

“Details that add play value are my secret passion.  There are a few that are extra special to me.  The Woodland towers of Georgetown Day School are spectacular because when I designed the net floors, they deliberately lined up so that there would be a stunning vertical view from the highest sling seats.  I can’t wait to see kids using that as the command centre for tower tag!  My second favourite is the hidden entrance to the third level of the Harvest Green barn.  My colleague Nat visited the site, climbed all through the structure and never noticed the secret route.  Like Joost, I have a soft spot for the Humbertown towers too.  They aren’t the highest towers we have done but they have this great conversational connection that is both visual and physical.” – Nathan Schleicher


“The climbing wall on the sugar beet sculpture is a bit psychedelic, but it almost makes the sculpture into a public art piece.  The colour pattern was inspired by the radiating markings of a beet cut in half, which is really amplified by the varying board lengths and the wild colours. The body of the beet features the same pattern, mirrored as creative climbing features with fun and aesthetically interesting cut-outs.” – Laura Williams

“The mountain sculpture at Ralph Klein Park in Calgary, Alberta has some of my favourite colour details.  The stain colours gradually shift from the white and greys of the mountain peaks down to the greens of the tree line.  The angled blue slats represent the water flow down the mountain creeks and valleys.  Inside the sculpture, the staining around the interior tunnels was also thoughtfully done to show the strata and water flowing through bedrock.” – Alex Waffle

“The Willie ‘Woo Woo’ Wong playground that will soon be installed in San Francisco has some of the most detailed staining colour patterns we have ever done.  Both the tall dragon sculpture and the junior phoenix sculpture have vibrant and dynamic colour palettes that bring to life these creatures that are so significant in classic Chinese folklore.” – Dennis Taves


“The large monolithic oak sculpture at the University of Guelph Child Care and Learning Centre is the perfect identification guide to discover the tree species planted in this childcare playground.  Additionally, they are the names of the children’s classroom inside the building!  The carving was meticulously detailed by the Carver Kings to highlight specific taxonomic characteristics related to leaf, bud, stem, and propagation and is a tactile and interpretative teaching element that exposes children to the subtleties of plants in nature.” – Dan Van Haastrecht

“The choice of a bison head sculpture at Story Mill Community Park in Bozeman has this edge to it that you never see on a playground.  Playgrounds are sometimes so sanitized and juvenile but kids love the smooth shape and feel of the skull.  It reflects that wild nature of Bozeman and is a critical part of the story of the land.” – Nathaniel Grant


The climbing hold details on the Kraken sculpture at the St. Pete Pier™ playground are a small detail that brings the sea creature to life.  The climbing holds are pink with small dimples and look like octopus tentacle suckers.  I also love the fish climbing holds that we added at St. James’ market themed playground.  Children recognize and find a lot of joy in these small details.” – Carlin Mantynen

“What child doesn’t like a secret hiding spot?  For some kids, especially those with sensory-processing difficulties, they are the safe haven on a playground.  At the Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre, we designed this great little nook into the berm, surrounded by boulders that creates the perfect but unexpected, secret hide-away for kids.” – Janelle Zwart


“When I observe children playing, I am amazed at the scale of their interactions. They are not engaging with far away vistas or untouchable objects, but are playing in the most material ways: getting to know details with their bodies. When I watch carpenters working in our shop, I am reminded of those playground moments. Nobody is removed from their work; instead, bodies press against wood, fingers trace smallest groves in wood, foreheads wrinkle in concentration, hands pull on protective mesh to feel its tension. I haven’t seen our crew folks lick metal poles like I have seen children do in wintertime, but maybe they are doing it when I’m not looking?” – Tatiana Zakharova