Drôle House Blog

Boardwalk rebuild

{Progress}

I was invited to re-design the beachfront of a cottage property in Catalone, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia that I had previously designed in 2000. The beach has been used and continues to be used by a dozen or more families every summer. The challenges for the 2017 project were to create a shareable common space between the two properties joined at the beach, to provide a 360 degree view life guard station, to reuse parts of the existing removable dock structure and large boulders, establish an area for kayaks, provide safe and easy access for kids to the water, flexible seating arrangements, create a seawall for erosion control including a bridge over a freshwater stream. That's kind of a long list, right? 

It doesn't look too bad here, but this is windswept remnant of the former dock and sitting area. Existing gazebo up the hill in the background.

It doesn't look too bad here, but this is windswept remnant of the former dock and sitting area. Existing gazebo up the hill in the background.

The result was a concept with three part:

1. A large shaded deck to share between properties

2. The screened gazebo/lifeguard station on the point

3. An elevated winding boardwalk to connect the two

Preliminary design, including relocating the gazebo, the boardwalk/bridge, semi-submerged boulders, deck and stepped seating down to the water line..

Preliminary design, including relocating the gazebo, the boardwalk/bridge, semi-submerged boulders, deck and stepped seating down to the water line..

Gazebo on it's new point- boardwalk in progress.

Gazebo on it's new point- boardwalk in progress.

A view to the new seawall with partial boardwalk framing.

A view to the new seawall with partial boardwalk framing.

View to the boardwalk below that jogs around the gazebo.

View to the boardwalk below that jogs around the gazebo.

A view to the steps that lead to the beachouse.

A view to the steps that lead to the beachouse.

A larger view from the beachouse deck to the new gazebo location and boardwalk beyond.

A larger view from the beachouse deck to the new gazebo location and boardwalk beyond.

Framing spans across the (currently dry) stream.

Framing spans across the (currently dry) stream.

The boulders and rocks used as foundation for the structure shore up parts of the beach against erosion. The light framing for the boardwalk span over sensitive slopes and vegetations, and care was taken to maintain trees and shrubs whose roots help protect the bank, as well as to keep prized blueberry patches easily accessible to tiny passersby!

The 12'x24' common deck structure with herringbone cedar decking pattern- in progress.

The 12'x24' common deck structure with herringbone cedar decking pattern- in progress.

The aluminum dock structure attached to the new boardwalk and gazebo.

The aluminum dock structure attached to the new boardwalk and gazebo.

A few of the 20+ cousins and relatives perched on the boulder + stone steps adjacent to the dock.

A few of the 20+ cousins and relatives perched on the boulder + stone steps adjacent to the dock.

One of my favourite outcomes of the project was that children LOVE to run back and forth along the boardwalk, just as I had hoped.  The semi-submerged boulders became welcome rest spots during swimming, and were nicknamed "mermaid rocks". This new beachfront will be enjoyed by many families for years to come.

beach_in_use
A view westward on Catalone lake from the completed upper boardwalk. Cedar railing with wire guards.

A view westward on Catalone lake from the completed upper boardwalk. Cedar railing with wire guards.

*A special thanks to Rose Taljaard for many of the photographs.

~Deborah

Playwork

playwork

I took my first trip to California this February for Pop Up Adventure Play's first annual Campference at Eureka Villa. It was conference about playwork theory and practice, attended by nearly a hundred people from all over the world. Seventy attendees, me included, camped on the site. It was a camp-ference...get it? Spoiler: it was freezing cold, there was a twenty year storm, the roads flooded, we abandoned the camp site, I had a run in with a mountain lion----and those were the least interesting nuggets of my three days in Val Verde! 

Me at the bottom right hand corner. Photo credit:  Chris Martin

Me at the bottom right hand corner. Photo credit: Chris Martin

What exactly is playwork, you ask? It has a fairly broad definition. The playwork principles according to campference speaker Professor Fraser Brown were:

1. All children and young people need to play. The impulse to play is innate. Play is a biological, psychological and social necessity, and is fundamental to the healthy development and wellbeing of individuals and communities.

2. Play is a process that's freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated.

The play he describes can't be found on a soccer team, or playing monopoly. Play comes from within, it's not owned, directed or controlled by adults. The role of the "play worker"; the role that pops up in several intersecting fields of study; is to create the conditions or environment that facilitate freely chosen play.

As a designer of built things, I felt like a fish out of water surrounded by outdoor educators, social workers and play activists. I certainly get to play when creating and designing built spaces, but how can I create spaces that facilitate play for others? This is what I had hoped to find out.

Here are some takeaways:

1. Affordance: describes what opportunity(ies) any given object, person or space can lend. For example, a chair has many affordances, you can sit on it, lay it down and it's a pilot's cockpit, use it as a goal posts for soccer etc. The more affordances an object or space has, the more opportunities for play it has. 

2. Risk and hazard: risk and hazard are not the same thing. Risk is individually judged and is dependent on the person doing the risking (i.e. can I jump across this puddle without getting wet), a hazard is an unforseen danger like a glass shard concealed in the park sand pit. Risk is cultural. Millions of people risk death each time they get behind the wheel of their car, but it's an accepted one. Parents confuse risk and hazard constantly. "That's dangerous!" is a warning applied equally to climbing a play structure or holding a chainsaw. The benefits of letting kids risk at their own pace are immense.

3. Playwork happens everywhere. In schools, in parks, in homes, at bus stops, you name it. Museums and zoos are getting on board, and providing real physical and emotional space for children. Playwork is not confined to outdoor adventure playgrounds in temperate climates. Take this bus stop prototype designed and built by Philadelphia's Public Workshop for example:

Photo credit: Alex Gilliam of Public Workshop

Photo credit: Alex Gilliam of Public Workshop

4.  The three F's: Ideally, play should be fun, flexible and free (child-led/autonomous) according to Fraser Brown. Playwork is about finding a way to say YES. Facilitating a collaborative design process with families is at the root of Drôle House's mission to bring more function and fun to homes. 

If you are interested in learning more about playwork in your own life or work, here are some  links of groups and businesses I was introduced to at the campference who doing some inspiring things.

Pop Up Adventure Play: they offer a playworker development course, and facilitate loose play pop ups everywhere.

Recess Revolution: to learn how to bring free play back to school recess.

EarthPlay Canada: giving the right to play back to Canadian kids.

The Land: a documentary film made by Erin Davis. It is a must see for adventure play enthusiasts.

Adventure: The Value of Risk in Children's Play written by Joan Almon.

Loose parts for free play. Check out my post on loose parts play  here .

Loose parts for free play. Check out my post on loose parts play here.

How do you support play in your life or work?

~Deborah

{DREAM} - Laneways reimagined

DREAM is a series of posts about ideas that are a little OUT THERE, to inspire a re-imagining of the built environment around us. If we can't dream it, how ever can we do it?

Have you heard of David Suzuki's Laneway Project? It's led by an urban design and planning organization that aims to tap the potential of Toronto's underused laneways. They estimate that there are 2400 publicly owned laneways covering more than 250km of linear public space throughout the city. In partnership with residents and businesses, they use murals, green paving and community events to get people thinking and using these out of sight, out of mind spaces differently.

It begs the question: if residential streets are for driving and parking cars owned by residents, why are laneways used the same way? Isn't it redundant? With every square foot at a premium in Toronto, garages can be repurposed as flex space and buffer the public and private spaces of a neighbourhood. Let's go wild for a minute and dream about what car-free laneways could be.

First, let's rip up all the asphalt. Yes, just go with it.

Plant native grasses and wildflowers. Let them grow wild. Wait.

Carve out mowed paths, labyrinths, clearings. Explore. Breathe it in.

The laneway is a greenway now. A park. A garden. 

The opaque faces of garage doors open up to reveal covered porches and family rooms, workshops and makerspaces, studios, even outdoor kitchens.

The laneway is now a safer place to inhabit, socialize, to play and to grow. 

Host summertime movie nights in a clearing.

Pour a rink for wintertime skating.

Carve out vegetable plots with access to this new sunlight.

Invite in gleaners from Not Far From The Tree to harvest and share the bounty from sweet cheery, pear, apple and apricot trees, raspberry and serviceberry bushes.

Host a traditional tomato canning party and exchange the bounty.

Can you see a flock of chickens in there somewhere?

What would you dream up?

Remember to subscribe to Drôle House here

~Deborah