10-12-20 | Feature

Taking Fun to New Heights

Alice Chalmers Park
by Amanda Brown, Specified Play Equipment Company

Once ranked the worst-maintained park in San Francisco, California, Alice Chalmers playground was revitalized through the Let'sPlaySF! Initiative, a partnership between the Recreation and Park Department and the San Francisco Parks Alliance. Landscape architecture firm Groundworks Office was chosen by the city to bring new life to this run-down neighborhood park. The firm collaborated with David Yosso, principal and owner of Specified Play Equipment Company (SPEC), to design an innovative small space playground for this 1/4-acre site.
The custom concrete blocks are stacked pre-cast concrete, each weighing in at roughly 800 lbs, and are meant to simulate the experience of scrambling along the rocky coastline of Northern California. They give kids an opportunity to test and challenge themselves as they traverse the playground, providing multiple elevations and vantage points of the play area. A 3-foot-wide stainless-steel embankment slide is situated atop one formation for younger park users.
Representing the city's skyscrapers, the wooden framed Halo Cubic Tower includes climbing nets, balancing elements, birds nest seating, net flooring, wooden platforms, a lookout tower, and cantilevered platforms with clear flooring to feel risky.
The super-fast and highly heat resistant AISI 304 stainless-steel spiral slide towers at greater than 20 feet tall. Paneling on the three-story fort structure consists of a beautiful combination of steel mesh, clear polycarbonate, high pressure laminate, and wood slats. The roofing material offers full shade for year-round play.

"Worst Playground in San Francisco"
Alice Chalmers Park is located in the Outer Mission neighborhood of San Francisco, California, a small, hilly community along the city's southern edge. In the past, clean and safe playgrounds were hard to come by in the area. "We don't take our kids to the park in our neighborhood, it's unsafe" said local resident, Ana Espinoza. Luckily, everything is about to change for the Outer Mission neighborhood with the all-new, world-class playground design at the revitalized Alice Chalmers Park.

For many years, Alice Chalmers Playground has been known for its lack of amenities. Local park users have described the park as "barely functional", "old", and "dirty" with no place to sit or play. In fact, Alice Chalmers Playground was identified as the worst-maintained park in all of San Francisco, ranking dead last out of 166 parks scored, according to an annual report released by the city's Controller's Office. The report concluded "every feature at [Alice Chalmers] scored lower than the corresponding citywide average and in many cases, it was much lower."

The recent renovation of Alice Chalmers Playground has been part of the Let'sPlaySF! Initiative, a partnership between the Recreation and Park Department and the San Francisco Parks Alliance that seeks to inspire creativity and play throughout the city. Thanks to the efforts of this initiative, funded by the 2012 Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond and a grant received from the NRPA and The Walt Disney Company, the park has blossomed into a uniquely enriching public space.

The city of San Francisco hired Landscape Architecture firm Groundworks Office to design the all new playground within the A 1/4 -acre, and $3 million park budget. Groundworks Office, based in Berkeley, California, says they are an energetic and highly motivated urban design and landscape architecture firm that challenges conventional norms. They are a group of designers that craft landscapes to tell stories about culture and complex environments. Founding partner Brennan Cox states, "we revel in the challenge to build bold and creative projects that push the boundaries of reality".

Groundworks Office brought on collaborator David Yosso, principal and owner of Specified Play Equipment Company (SPEC), as the lead play equipment design consultant and equipment supplier. Yosso has been designing award winning playground projects throughout the country for almost 15 years. He works hand in hand with communities, municipalities, and global Landscape Architects and is known as an influencer within the playground design community. He is currently working with acclaimed Landscape Architecture firms across the U.S. designing innovative playground projects including projects in Texas, Florida, and New York. His team works with playground manufacturers from all over the world that share his philosophy on play design. Yosso said, "SPEC is honored to collaborate with Groundworks Office and the City of San Francisco to continue our mission; to design, consult, collaborate, and construct self-regulated play experiences for all ages and abilities to exercise risk, failure, and mastery. Our passion for play, sport and park is our purpose."

Design Approach
The design approach for Alice Chalmers Playground references the rocky and rugged coastline of California. It gives kids a tactile and active play experience with a combination of traditional play elements and a thoughtful layout of custom elements that deliver a large impact in a small space. The design also pays close attention to provide creative, unique, and inclusive play opportunities which encourage children to utilize their imagination while engaging in the playground at their own pace and ability level. This approach allows each space to function in multiple ways, maximizing the play potential of the space.
The unconventional play space features play elements from Berliner Seilfabrik which include a classic three-dimensional "Mars" net climber that is designed for beginning climbers to experience the first feelings of success when climbing to the top, as well as the all-new 8-foot diameter Disk XL Spinner. Nine-year old playground test user Dylan said, "that huge spinner is so rad, I love how it just keeps spinning, so cool." Simple A-Frame swing for both toddlers and school age users are positioned among the landscape, while a custom 3-foot wide stainless-steel embankment slide sits atop a "randomly organized" concrete block formation. The design culminates in an elegantly massive three-story fort structure that offers commanding views and fosters creative and imaginary types of play experiences. The nearly 38-foot tall enclosed fort structure is a mini version of a San Francisco skyscraper and the first wooden framed Halo Cubic Tower in North America by the award-winning manufacturer Lappset.
Yosso states, "the Halo range of products are perfectly suited for the urban play environment and consist of elegant, functional, and uniquely matching modules." The wooden frames boast galvanized steel footers which seemingly allow the Cubic to fit within almost any play landscape. The open site lines and natural lighting create an emblematic skyline along the horizon at any hour.
After scaling the first floor of the Cubic structure, the net passages reveal the second level where more exploration and curiosity begs them to keep climbing to the top to see how high they can reach. Once at the top of the wooden tower, children will be awestruck by the views and the vast landscape and skyline of the city of San Francisco. It is not hard to find the Salesforce Tower and other iconic San Francisco landmarks and feeling as though you are "just as high in the sky." The descent comes with experiencing the thrilling and well-situated stainless-steel tube slide which whisks one down to the synthetic turf safety surfacing below. Upon arrival, gleeful laughter and chants arise repeating, "let's do it again."

Team list:
Specified Play Equipment Company
Ware Architecture + Engineering
LINEOFFICE Architecture
RIJA Electrical
Arthur Landscape Irrigation Consulting

As seen in LASN magazine, October 2020.


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