There’s shade on the mountain and sometimes a soft silky breeze blows a refreshing kiss. These are welcome blessings in one of North America’s finest festival cities where summer’s sticky drip calls out for relief and release. If the kids are not already hot enough, they can work up some steam and then cool down at a new playground opened in 2009 in Montréal’s Mount Royal Park.
In the splash, paddle and run zone, timed jets of water arc into the air from embedded nozzles and a watery film gently bathes a stationary orb. The playground flows through a dip in a small glade in an unhurried meander. Bordered on one side by a sweep of trees, it then opens onto a modest plain lush with grass and shade.
A bird’s eye view shows that the playground’s outline takes the form of a stylized salamander. Two black climbing rocks serve as the amphibian’s eyes and four play zones are housed in the front and rear footprints. This representation pays tribute to the blue spotted salamander a native species that finds some respite in this green urban oasis where it is on a protected list.
The equipment here is atypical. If it isn’t flash-of-fun, kid powered motion, then the kids have to scrabble over, through, or around it. The architecture, landscape and urban design firm CHA (Cardinal Hardy) did their homework sourcing the material for this playscape. Some pieces like the tilted spinning platter originate in Germany. Others, like the orbular fountain, were created by CHA’s Bao-Chau Nguyen who also designed the rustic log benches. The black shine meteoric rocks were tracked down in California. The result is a unique play experience, a blend of climbing, whirling, balancing and spinning far from the city’s madding crowds and traffic.
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Aside from the exquisite location, it is the equipment and its thoughtful placement that really sets this playground apart. Getting just the right mix was an important objective.
“We wanted things that kids could say, ‘oh, that’s different, what can I do with this?’ It wasn’t the regular slides, or swings that we were looking for. We were really after pieces that could be used in multiple ways encouraging discovery and a little experimentation. The spinning platter is a good example. You can sit on it, walk on it, lay flat on your belly.” – Isabelle Giasson, CHA Project Manager
As with all new development in the Park, this project had to be sensitive to the already existing landscapes as envisioned in the 19th century by the granddaddy of urban green space designers, Frederic Olmsted. In comparison with the riotous colours of the 1960s era playspace that preceded it, Salamander playground is a study in muted, minimalist tones of silver, blue and black and softly curving contemporary shapings.
In addition to high performance equipment and a design that mimics the natural flow of vertical and horizontal axes, Salamander Playground features another distinguishing element. Embedded in the pathways and benches throughout the playground are images and excerpts of text that tell the story of the Conventions on the Rights of the Child as elaborated and promoted by UNICEF.
Article 6 (Survival and development): Children have the right to live. Governments should ensure that children survive and develop healthily. The Convention on the Rights of the Child
This is the first public space in the world where images and text have been used side by side to tell the story of children’s rights. The images by artist Gérard Dansereau temper the seriousness of the message with a breath of lightness, splashes of colour and an invitation to play. Montréal now joins Massongex, Switzerland and Luxembourg as cities with Rights of the Child commemorative paths.
The Salamander Playground and the Path for Children’s Rights were officially opened on May 25, 2009 at a combined cost of $2.2 million. In 2010, CHA were presented with a Regional Merit Award for this project by the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects.
This playscape has rapidly become a destination for Montréalers. Two visits were not enough for me. I’m looking forward to my next trek up the mountain perhaps in the summer of 2011. Maybe this time I’ll get up enough nerve to dash through the fountains and try out some of the equipment myself – a little adult playground therapy. What are we grown-ups to do, is it just vicarious fun for us?
All photos by A. Smith with the exception of aerial Salamander Playground shot by Marc Cramer.