Tākaro ā Poi | Margaret Mahy Family Playground

After the Christchurch earthquakes of 2010/11, the imaginative young minds of the city's children brought hope and life back to the CBD by transforming an entire city block from ruins into a vibrant public space for play.

The idea for a playground in the city was sparked by the community who chose 'play' as one of the five key changes for their new city. The investment in public space and recreation infrastructure was seen as a key to catalysing the regeneration of the city so The Christchurch Central Recovery Plan made provision for a playground in the CBD and the Margaret Mahy Family Playground became the largest play project in New Zealand. 

Prioritising the children's role in the rebuild of the city was integral to creating a sense of hope and a feeling of security. In 2013, children were invited to design 'the world's best playground.' Out of 300 entries from 6,000 school children, one of the winning entries came from Selwyn House School and was inspired by local author Margaret Mahy, giving the park its name. 

Our designers were given a book full of ideas from the winning entries and met with children to share their ideas. A travelling display of entries, an interactive Facebook page, videos and web uploads of the progress kept the rest of the country involved. 

Engaging with the local Manu Whenua Ngāi Tahu was important in ensuring that Iwi values were upheld. The park was given a dual name, Tākaro ā Poi, which speaks about people being drawn into the space to connect, meet and play, like the swing of a Poi while including the Maori verb for play – Tākaro. Ngāi Tahu artists designed play features in the space including graphic art in the water feature pavement.

"One of the best adventure playgrounds I've visited...in the world! Great to see such a huge investment in family fun. Good job!" - Future Christchurch website. 

The most unique aspect of our design is the transformation of the landscape to represent the diverse settings of the Canterbury Plains and Port Hills. We designed each of the different landscapes to encourage different types of play where children can climb and scramble through forest towers amidst the hills, play with sand and water in the coastal zone, and manipulate water through sprinklers and water cannons in the wetlands zone. The space allows children of all abilities to interact side by side on unique and leading edge play equipment created in collaboration with German engineers including giant forest towers, climbing nets and a 4m wide by 4m high slide. 

Prior to the 2010/11 earthquakes a public park named after author and community leader Elsie Locke occupied part of the site. To honour Elsie's legacy as well as all the important people associated with the site, our design team created a narrative artwork feature named the 'Family Park Story Arc.' Ngāi Tahu representatives also contributed art work to this engraved pathway that encircles the centre of the park, adding to the rich social and cultural tapestry of the environment. 

The success of the playground has been immediately palpable. In the first month following its opening in December 2015, it had 100,000 visitors. The park has been instrumental in reshaping a future city with the focus on wellbeing, balance, and quality living as well as economic regeneration of the city which can be seen in the upsurge of business in the neighbouring commercial precinct. The Canterbury DHB 2016 wellbeing survey credits the project with around two fifths (42%) of greater Christchurch residents continuing to be positively impacted by the opportunity to experience public events and spaces as a result of the earthquakes. This is having a strong positive impact on the lives of just over one in five (22%) residents - the highest rating to date. 

At the New Zealand Recreation Association (NZRA) awards in November 2016, WSP Opus was the winner of the Outstanding Project award for the design of the Margaret Mahy Family Playground. The playground was praised for the high level of play value and integration of play activities into a wider park setting; our extensive consultation with children and use of their ideas in the design; the use of vulcanised rubber to artistically resemble a New Zealand topographical map, and for pushing the boundaries of challenge and managed risk. 

The park's success has been demonstrated not only by the unprecedented number of visitors but also by feedback on social media and numerous reports by social commentators. The playground has also been listed on Trip Advisor as one of the top things to do in Christchurch.

"The Margaret Mahy Playground is without a doubt the single most successful thing that CERA has done in its existence. It's been packed with kids since day one, and you can often find some of the older - but young at heart - residents using the equipment at night. This project showed that not only could the CCDU deliver a project, but it could bring life back to the CBD." - James Dann, the Spinoff.

Our award winning design, led by WSP Opus Landscape Architecture, was the result of close work with our client CERA along with its statutory partners, the Christchurch City Council and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.

We also collaborated with sub-consultants Tina Dyer, BDP, Landlab, Boffa Miskell, Colin Meurk, and play equipment suppliers Playrope Ltd. Our design was brought to life by contractors Citycare and JohnFillmore who built the park. 

Without the dedication and commitment of the following individuals, this project would not have been possible:

Wayne Stewart -Project Director
Wayne Rimmer - Avon River Project (ARP) Design Leader
Catherine Hamilton - Project Design Leader
Mark Devenny - Programme Delivery
Sarah Rowan -Project Landscape Architect 

Our team were also supported by landscape architects, play specialists, civil engineers, structural engineers, hydrology, ecology, archaeology, architecture, geospatial and modelling, and planning.