Photo Credits: The Outdoor PLAYbook
Initial Research by: Kathryn McCudden
Edited by: Samantha Miller & Nicole Brekelmans
Case study compiled in 2019
Project: Folly Forest: A dance floor for 100 trees
Type of Urban Strategy: Green Cities
Type of Project: Schoolyard - Playscape
Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba
Date Designed/Planned: N/A
Construction Completed: 2012
Designer: Dietmar Straub & Anna Thurmayr of Straub Thurmayr CSLA Landschaftsarchitekten
Folly Forest is a playground intervention for the 21st century. From a handful of constraints which included stormwater management issues, large swaths of asphalt and a reasonably rigid expectation that it was unavoidable in the schoolyard, design guidelines that made it hard to change, and budgetary restrictions, emerged a wonderfully playful, imaginative, and yet simple design, which utilized recycled and repurposed materials wherever possible. To quote the designers: “Rust. Cracks. Leftovers. These are the building blocks of the Folly Forest”
(Straub and Thurmayr, n.d.).
Dietmar Straub and Anna Thurmayr didn’t approach this redesign by thinking about ways to replace the asphalt play surface, but rather how to repurpose it. They punched holes in the pavement to improve surface drainage and used these roughly star-shaped perforations to plant a forest of 100 trees, turning the old asphalt into a dance floor where the human, plant, and insect life can engage with each other, get fresh air, and grow. Lisa Landrum writes that “This primary design-move subdued the asphalt while reinterpreting its chaotic geometry of grass-filled cracks as cues to renewal. Surface failures were seen as enabling a resilient return of natural growth.”
In addition to the newly planted trees and perforated pavement, a bricolage of recycled paving fills in the gaps while maintaining permeability and gives the space character and texture. Timbers from an old stadium have been transformed to climbable benches throughout the site. Large hulking iron mounds, rusted with time and exposure to the air and the small hands that leave little fingerprints on their sides, also punctuate the space. The upturned industrial vats are a sculptural addition, intended to spark the imagination. The designers suggest they are look-out towers for earthworms, or perhaps nests for dinosaur eggs. (Landrum, n.d.)
The project is a breath of fresh air in schoolyard design. Most schoolyards must comply with rigid design guidelines which dictate the amount of paved surface per child, how distant trees must be from buildings, and what kind of play equipment is deemed safe. There is a veritable typology of playground design across Western Canada, and it leaves so many playgrounds looking a bit the same. They may be in different neighbourhoods, different cities, with different kids, but one can recognize the before pictures of the site without ever having been there: we have all walked through it enough times. Folly Forest challenges the type of playgrounds we have come to expect.
At the same time, it rethinks the budgets we expect from redesigned playgrounds. Spending only about $20 per meter squared, this project truly demonstrates that great playscapes don’t need equally grand budgets. Using recycled and found materials are not only an environmentally friendly approach but budget-friendly as well.
Bringing a project like this for a school in an underprivileged area of Winnipeg has an impact on the students, earthworms, plant life, and on the community as well. As the air changes the surface on the slowly rusting earthworm fortresses, the playground could have a slow effect on the lives of the children who play there, perhaps the neighbourhood itself: a chemical reaction from exposure to fresh air.