In Long Island City, Sven Park designed by New York– and Atlanta-based landscape firm Starr Whitehouse packs a lot onto a relatively small site. The park features components of recreation and play at nearly every corner: a balance beam, a ping pong table, a dog run are dispersed throughout the area. At the center of the action is NEST, a wooden playscape by Tri-Lox modeled after bird’s nests.
The Durst Organization tapped Starr Whitehouse to work on the park and create a place for active recreation. The site is completely surrounded by developed lots and fronted only by a narrow street. At the start of construction, the lot was falling away from the street; in raising it the designers improved its visibility. Considerations for the park’s programming came from the neighborhood’s demographics which primarily consists of young families, and during the daytime, middle and high school students at local schools.
“We really wanted to stress the idea of unprescribed play given the all-ages usership of the park. The equipment accommodates climbing, spinning, sliding, and make-believe, and they are all sculptural in form,” Jacob Lange, principal and director of Starr Whitehouse Atlanta told AN.
Sven Park bursts with activity from its entrance where tables double as chess boards and benches also function as swing sets. The “exclamation point” to all this is NEST. When considering different modes of activity Starr Whitehouse was in search of an object that best lends itself to “unprescribed play.”
The landscape firm had previously worked with Tri-Lox on a wave deck for a residential terrace and came across the Brooklyn practice’s past work on a NEST playscape for the Brooklyn Children’s Museum rooftop.
“We were having such a hard time finding something that was abstract and visually compelling and that responded to the materials we were specifying for the park,” Lange said. “We wanted something that could be crawled under, over, and around; that could be a jungle gym one minute and a make-believe cave or bodega another.”
Cofounder and managing partner of Tri-Lox Alexander Bender told AN, “we often look to nature first for design inspiration.” The nod to nature is deeply apparent in NEST’s design. The organically-shaped sculpture is fabricated modularly and uses locally sourced wood. The result is a playscape in total synchrony with its surrounding environment that can be climbed, sat on, or hidden in.
Tri-Lox tapped Sara Brunelle of Lu–La Studio, a Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI) play specialist and landscape designer, to ensure the NEST playscape aligned with play theory research and safety protocols.
NEST’s rounded form is meant to imitate a bird’s nest. To garner the shape Tri-Lox looked at the habitats of three warbler birds from the northeast: the Cerulean Warbler, the Northern Parula, and the Ovenbird.
The arches and other openings cut into the structure are edged in a light blue that matches the fencing running along the park’s perimeter. A net splayed over the top one of the structure creates another opportunity for play.
Tri-Lox specified a Black Locust wood, one of the densest woods in North America for the play structure. Over time its tone will fade to silver, but its durability will remain intact. The wood slats are fixed onto a stainless steel substructure, furthering the piece’s durability. On top of this, the structure and its materials are 100 percent recyclable.