A Space to Call Our Own, an investigation into designing for play in urban environments
Play is an act of discovery and stimulation. As children, we play to learn and grow. As adults, we play for freedom and to escape from reality. The action of play is a largely neglected aspect of peoples experience in urban public space. It is the un-functional and impractical use of the environment that fulfils a human instinct and curiosity that can spark conversation and spontaneity in public spaces. The development of the built environment has centred on improving the efficiency of daily life and little attention has been given to the informal synergies that urban public space can enable. Yet this space plays a central role in the formation of our culture and communities. With increasing trends of migration and urbanisation, New Zealand has become a multicultural society, but the quality of our public spaces and a distinct lack of meaningful interaction is causing increased levels of social fragmentation. The universal action of play can be used as a design tool to increase the level of meaningful activity and interaction in these spaces. This thesis aims to understand how the inclusion of play and playful behaviour can create polycentric environments that can contribute to the reversal of social fragmentation between our ethnic communities and improve social cohesion and resilience within Newtown and Berhampore, socially deprived suburbs in Wellington, New Zealand. The method of this research focuses on combining methods of spatial assessment and community engagement to develop a holistic understanding of play across social, cultural and physical dimensions. Observational studies, public surveying and community workshops combined with a comparative study across a series of case studies provided a foundation of knowledge that was then able to be applied to the design of physical playful spaces. The design response across three test sites vary in scale between small tactical additions and overall redesign of space. These responses display how play can facilitate new forms of social interaction and spark spontaneity. The improved sense of community, familiarity and overall playfulness, increase overall resilience and overturn effects of social fragmentation. This thesis demonstrates how landscape architects can engage with the concept of play to reignite passion within a community and support social network growth.