09-13-22 | News

University of Pittsburgh Child Development Center

by Staff

The 8.400 sf outdoor play space at the University of Pittsburgh's Child Development Center (UCDC) invites young children and their caregivers to explore, experiment, and connect with the natural world and with each other. The design provides a variety of settings and elements that immerse children in a daily experience of nature and encourage healthy risk taking and creative problem solving. UCDC enrolls 150 children ages 6 weeks to 5 years and supports the University's mission of teaching, research, and public service by operating as a laboratory setting for faculty and students majoring in child-related fields of study.

The UCDC leadership had a strong vision for an inclusive space that would give children daily contact with the outdoors and the natural environment with seasonal and sensory variety. They wanted to move away from a playground focused on static play equipment, toward a more flexible arrangement of zones or stations that could be used for a variety of activities.

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The layout is organized around a central play lawn and trike loop, with outdoor learning areas and an outdoor classroom pavilion arranged around it. Babies and toddlers can play and explore a specially designed environment in the shade of an existing tree. The preschool adventure space has more challenging elements for balancing and climbing. The messy project space has a water play area with hand pump and dry stream, a digging area, and space for block play and building. Hands-on gardens, digging areas, and native plants let kids experience nature with all their senses. When children see rainwater spouting from the mouths of downspout fish sculptures and flowing into the rain gardens, they learn about how soil absorbs water. Porous, recycled rubber surfacing keeps play areas dry while reducing stormwater runoff.

UCDC encourages children of various ages to play and interact together in the outdoor play space. Because abilities vary so widely along the spectrum of ages from infants to preschoolers, a mixed outdoor space required careful consideration in the design. Materials were carefully selected to avoid choking hazards for infants and toddlers; for example, coconut coir fiber was used in planted areas instead of the usual hardwood mulch. Certain areas are designed for infants and toddlers or preschoolers, but they are not fenced off from each other, letting teachers manage use of the space as it suits the abilities and interests of the children in their classroom.

The UCDC Director sent the following message after the playground opened: "All of the toddlers and all of the preschoolers got to explore and enjoy the playground on Monday and Tuesday ... The smiles, laughter and joy was abundant and it was clear that they love the space and the options for play so far. The way the kids are using the natural landscape is so rewarding... Watching them take care of one another and play with kids that are other ages is incredible. ... I cannot thank you enough for bringing our vision to life. Parents are thrilled. We've had very specific comments about the design and parents seem to really appreciate the thought that went into it and the outcome.

The upcoming Playgrounds Issue of Landscape Architect and Specifier News saw many firms submit their projects for feature consideration. This project was not chosen for a Feature in the issue, but we at thought the project deserved to be showcased online . . .

Project Team:

Owner: University of Pittsburgh
Landscape Architect: Pashek+MTR
Architect: Moshier Studio
Irrigation Designer: Wc3 Design
Electrical Engineer: Iams Consulting
Survey/Civil: R.A. Smith National
General Contractor: Volpatt Construction


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