How To Build A Playground

Last year, Keita Takahashi arrived to begin work on the designs for a new playground at Woodthorpe Grange Park in Nottingham.

This year, he’s back to report on progress.

Come along to Ballroom to close the festival and be the first to see Keita’s ideas.

James Diamond, Iain Simons, Keita Takahashi (Uvula).

My Thoughts

Crazy, crazy design ideas – in a good way. I’m near Woodthorpe Park so will be checking out anything that is constructed there when they get this off the ground. We’ll see when and what that’ll be – some of the designs seem a bit too strange.

Also: this will look rubbish without pictures. The official full stream is available here.


Iain: Keita Takahashi said at GDC Europe in an interview that he wanted to really design a playground rather then make games. Then we thought it would be interesting to get him to do the playground. It took a year to get him to come to GameCity at 2007 for 3 or 4 days. Had to talk to the tourist and government people about things so mentioned “Do you have any land where you want a new playground?” but getting nowhere. Until one of these presentation meetings mentioned the playground where someone spoke up saying “I knew the head of parks”. At the time Keita also did his presentation and mentioned he was building a playground, which kind of just happened. He went back to Tokyo – and so some difficult questions, what playground and where?

Keita disappeared for 18 months on Noby Noby Boy, talked to Namco about getting Keita over for the work. Came in 2009 in end of September; simple agreement reached between Trent University, City Council and Namco Bandai games. Keita comes over for a month, find a site, spends 3 weeks there literally in the park doing site specific work and at the end of that show them to members of the public and try and work out if “Can he design playgrounds?” – if no one is happy everyone can walk away and no one is harmed.

Keita was living in a house in Nottingham, and had some focus meetings. Kids loved ideas; and wanted more (200M talk climbing frames!).

James: Apart from the money and stuff, was new to doing this with a designer who had never done a playground so was learning health and safety and so forth when looking at materials and designs.

Keita: Most of the design has been done in my mind; but might need to reconsider the design with a different result because of health and safety. It is a challenge in any kind of project. It is an area anyone can play. 3 year old play very differently to 5 year olds.

Drawing fish on the ground was a lot more fun then expected, so worked on a 3d bumpy graffiti area. Doughnut slide, where you can slide endlessly – but didn’t like it so changed it to a cradle – might be fun if you pour water in. Planned chairs of different shapes, or benches that moved – but both rejected.

Worked on large play blocks which would be fun to play with but they’d be dangerous. There was instead an idea of making them smaller, and to stop them being stolen putting magnets in them. We shall see.

Another idea was jumping with trampolines; smaller ones to jump one from another but kids will likely bump into each other.

A swing idea putting the swings together in one chair. Also added rotating – not sure it will work properly but if they work together it should work well.

Treadmill was boring, so added holes to see in. This might be dangerous though.

Equipment involving the trees in the park; nets and bridges, as done in other parks.

Balls being thrown on metal structures – can make noises, can be fun to get it stuck at the top and so on.

A big seesaw, simple to pull ropes to use but should be fun.

A large bendy stick; a bit gross and strange but can be pulled form multiple angles.

Rotating piers, was dangerous and alternatives were boring. A different design was large upright piers which people can climb on.

A slide; potentially a loop, but big enough for everyone to use.

Climbing frame; massive 12 metres high, sets of 3M high.

Some designs of catapults for firing balls; love the basic slingshot design, alternatives not as fun, but is dangerous so needs work.

Can have competitions on each of the things; how fast you can spin the swings, holding your wife around the slide, throwing a dog treat in a catapult – fastest dog wins. Treadmill – amount of turns while in a mice costume. These competitions have a lot of potential to be very exciting. If they happen I will definitely participate.


Audience: Do you have any idea where things will be in Woodthorpe Park?

Keita (translator): It’s still a secret.

Audience: While you were growing up was there a favourite piece of playground equipment while you were at school?

Keita (translator): Was quite chubby while he was little and didn’t play outside so didn’t have many good memories of playgrounds.

Audience: Why not make another videogame? Why make a playground next?

Keita (translator): He is still going to work on both and make videogames too.

Audience: Is it frustrating having to think about safety when designing the park as in videogames you do not have to?

Keita (translator): It is really stressful but challenging in a good way, finding things like very simple things are dangerous. A very exciting challenge to break into the perception of dangerous equipment and finds it a very creative process.

Audience: When is it going to be completed?

Iain: We don’t know when it will completed, but we know when it will start.

James: Things will start on a cafe this year – next 6 months, and started discussing with companies.

Audience: We have a lot of rain in this country have you thought about using mud?

Keita (translator): He wishes to make something like that if we all wish.

Audience: Roughly how many of those designs will be going into the final playground?

James: There is no real final playground; some of the bigger ones do more longterm where the mechanisms have not even been created yet.

Audience: Going back to those not existing mechanisms, would you want more of these playgrounds to exist?

Keita (translator): He would really like to do it.

Audience: Of all the equipment you shown us, which is your favourite?

Keita (translator): Which one do you like?

Audience: I like the slide.

Keita (translator): I do too.

Audience: What is the creative process like compared to videogames?

Keita (translator): Very similar at the conceptual stage creatively. When he gets to the practical things they might be different.

Audience: I saw lots of dogs but no cats in the sketches, are you a dog person?

Keita (translator): He likes both.

Audience: What is there to stop abuse on the equipment like being pushed off, will it be monitored?

James: At the moment we want an open access area; toddlers up to grandparents.

Iain: Some like the big building blocks need to be secured; some like the critical fall hight are sorted for some even the climbing frame, you can’t fall all the way down off the top.

Audience: Would you rise to the challenge of using it in an inner city area, a very urban area?

Keita (translator): We’re not sure it is relevant but the ultimate aim would be to create a whole city and not just a park.

James: I think you might have tapped into something a bit worrying there.

Audience: Do you think physical spaces are more fun to play in then the physical space?

Keita (translator): He enjoys them both since the kind of fun he has are different types of fun.

Audience: Have you considered using solar powered equipment?

Keita (translator): Not really because for this project designed to not have any electric power involved, just to enjoy by themselves.

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