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03-22-21 | Feature

The Smaller the Creature, the Bolder the Spirit

Wheatlands Park in Denver, Colorado
by Lesanne DomA-nguez, PLA, ASLA, SEGD, Architerra Group

In a suburb located in southern Denver, the Landscape Architect with The Architerra Group designed a themed playground to allow children to experience physics as the size of an ant. The custom climbing wall was designed and built by experienced climbers for a variety of ages and climbing skills. The non traditional play elements found throughout the playground are made from glass fiber reinforced concrete.
The plaza contains a whimsical wheat stalk spiral with ants marching towards the playground. The ants grow in size as they get closer to the playground to suggest that one is shrinking in size and arriving at the playground as small as an insect. The specialty concrete is composed of SandscapeA(R) premium sand finished concrete and crushed glass implemented using the LithocreteA(R) process from Bomanites licensed contractor, Colorado Hardscapes.
The park sign measures 22.5' by 3.5' by 8' tall and utilizes rustic steel and wood which is commonly used throughout the neighborhood.
The playground is a combination of standard playground elements with insect-like details and custom elements such as the climbing wall showing subterranean roots, worms, ants and a freestanding bee perched on a honeycomb. The playground surfacing is made of engineered wood fiber.
Colorful custom sign panels reference a quote by American writer and poet, Suzy Kassem, suggesting the smaller the creature, the bolder the spirit. They were designed and installed to appear to be growing in size, a complement to the marching ants. Signs were placed in the soil which is amended with wood mulch.
Seating areas are provided on the lower and upper levels of the playground to ensure that parents have a place to sit with a view of their children. DuMor Site Furnishings provided the picnic tables, bleachers and trash receptacles
The Landscape Architect designed the enlarged anthills with rubberized surfacing and colors to mimic the look of a real anthill. The custom designed ants include rebar legs to provide hand and footholds for kids climbing up and down the anthill.
The Landscape Architect designed the enlarged anthills with rubberized surfacing and colors to mimic the look of a real anthill. The custom designed ants include rebar legs to provide hand and footholds for kids climbing up and down the anthill.
The leafs and vines can be used as a climber or slide providing a bridge between the upper and lower play areas. The custom play features and insects were provided by ID Sculpture.
Semi-custom design elements were added to the 35' square shelter structure from Classic Recreation Systems. The stone base and coloration were integrated into the design to match the restroom and complement the context of the surrounding neighborhood. The structural supports are a dark granite, the roof is a metallic lead coat, and the board and batts are a cinnamon color. Xeric plantings were added to soften the space while remaining respectful of water usage, and several boulders were included to the planting beds to add texture and materiality. The shade structure was provided by Classic Recreation Systems.

Wheatlands Park is located in the Wheatlands neighborhood in a southern suburb of Denver and is the premier playground and gathering place for the community. The site is surrounded on three sides by neighborhood streets and homes, so the design required consideration of the homes that are in close proximity to the park. The fourth side of the park is a new YMCA facility that is currently under construction.

Landscape architecture firm The Architerra Group developed the master plan for the park. The plan included a custom, two-tiered playground, shelter area, and plumbed restroom. Architerra developed the construction document package and provided construction administration services for those park features. A future phase of this park will include a basketball court, a multi-use sport court, and a 'neighborhood patio' area with lawn and patio games.

The playground is inspired by the idea of allowing children to experience play from the perspective of the size of an insect. They are greeted into the playground with ants marching along a spiral wheat stalk path. The ants gradually get larger which allows the children to feel they are shrinking. They arrive into the playground as 'miniature' versions of themselves and are greeted by an 8' tall ant hill with marching ants returning to the colony, an earthworm burrowing out of the earthen wall, a curly leaf climber, a spider spinning a web climber, and a honeybee perched on a piece of honeycomb. In addition to the custom playground features, prefabricated playground equipment supports the insect-oriented design using colors and shapes found in the insect world.

The whimsical playground is supported by a large semi-custom shade structure that provides seating for six picnic tables. A new plumbed restroom building has a bottle filling station and drinking fountain as well as baby changing stations in the restrooms. The park is completed with an informal blue grass lawn, decorative blue grass berms, and large shade trees.

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To take advantage of the existing challenging topography, the playground was designed with two levels with the custom climbing wall separating them. This created an interactive and playful way of transitioning between the differently spaces.

The materials selected for the park was based in existing materials throughout the community. Dark wood offset by cobble rock veneer and native and xeric planting were included in the park design, creating a seamless integration into the neighborhood. While the shade structure and restroom were provided by two different companies, great care was taken to ensure the finishes were the same or complementary, resulting in a unified look for the park.

As Landscape Architects, the Architerra Group strongly believes in the collaborative aspect of the design process. They invite all subconsultants to the table as they are developing design solutions, often involving them during early planning stages so that their input can be factored into design decisions. In addition to collaboration with other design firms during the design phase, they also collaborate with the contractor during the construction phase. Their philosophy is to bring them to the table when they enter the project process to facilitate proper communication channels and design making protocols. This creates a more streamlined construction phase and ensures that the integrity of the design is maintained while also responding to the inevitable challenges that can arise.

The collaborative spirit of design combined with a creative and whimsical inspiration for play created a unique and beloved park and playground for this neighborhood.

Team:
Prime Consultant:
- The Architerra Group, Landscape Architect
General Contractor: - Goodland Construction
Subconsultants:
- Ackerman Engineering, electrical engineer
- Akamai Design, civil engineer
- Applied Design Services, irrigation designer
- ESI Land Consultants, surveyor
- GROUND Engineering, geotechnical engineer
- Otegui Structural Services, structural engineer

As seen in LASN magazine, March 2021.

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