Accessibility Watch: Play Time

This week’s Accessibility Watch is travelling south to Rutledge, Georgia. About 50 miles outside of Atlanta, it is home to Camp Twin Lakes, where children with serious illnesses and other life challenges can still enjoy the summer-camp experience, thanks to amenities like climate-controlled cabins, fully accessible recreation facilities, and an on-site medical center. Last summer, the camp opened a monumental tree house, the kind that most children can only dream of. It has five different spaces, it’s filled with fresh air and natural light, and most importantly, it’s wheelchair accessible.

The design originated from the campers themselves. Each drew (or constructed from Popsicle sticks) a dream tree house. Cynthia Gentry, an artist and the founder of Atlanta Taskforce on Play (ATOP), teamed up with the architectural firm Lord, Aeck & Sargent to design a workable, kid-inspired structure. Technically, the final result doesn’t sit in a tree, but rather hovers in a stand of trees, 15 feet off the ground. It is completely surrounded by nature and the perfect venue for lessons on the environment and sustainability. On the kids’ request, it’s also equipped with a spiraling slide and a trap door.

CamperDrawing_3One camper’s vision

The final structure. Tree house photos: © 2009 Jonathan Hillyer Photography

The slide isn’t the only amazing feature. A roof garden simulates the forest floor, essentially erasing the structure’s footprint. Three domed skylights allow campers to explore the surrounding trees and animal life from safely inside the tree house. And, to give kids a break from the hot Georgia summers, a misting system along the perimeter cools it by as much as eight degrees; inside, there are solar-powered ceiling fans.

A section drawing–click to view larger. Image: courtesy Lord, Aeck & Sargent

With the tree house complete, ATOP is now turning its attention to Playable 2010, an international design competition that should yield some further innovations in playground design. Although the guidelines are not set, the project will have categories for professional, student, and child designers to design a playground that inspires children to get off the couch and play outside. Keep an eye on for more information in the next few weeks. Here’s hoping the entries maintain the same commitment to accessibility as Camp Twin Lakes’ new tree house.

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