The brief

An extensive community consultation process identified a desire for play facilities that would fit in with the surrounding park landscape but also offer a unique experience.  This led to a conversation between Lendlease and the design team about the value of ‘natural play’ and the following key design principles emerged.  For Elephant Springs to be successful, it needed to be;

  • Inclusive and accessible to the whole community
  • Fun and challenging
  • Bespoke and unique to the area
  • Woven seamlessly into the surrounding landscape
  • Built predominately of natural materials
  • Inclusive of areas that could be manipulated and changed
  • Designed to allow children of all ages to play together
  • Designed to provide a wide range of experiences, including relaxation 


Design

The design process started in 2019 with a series of wonderful conceptual sketches by artist and lead designer, Mel Chantrey (working on behalf of The Fountain Workshop). These sketches convey the early idea to create a rocky landscape with multiple mounds, ravines and channels inspired by the natural world. Water was key to the vision right from the earliest conversations with a variety of different ‘watery interventions’ from streams, cascades, jets and hand pumps providing users with a variety of different experiences.

Early conceptual sketch for a stone bridge providing inclusive access

Early conceptual sketch of rocky terrain

Next, an amazing plasticine model was built to scale by Mel. Rather than moving straight into digital software, this tactile and fun approach allowed the design team to test different ideas quickly and agree on changes to the rock forms and channels. This process has helped to get maximum value out of every element and deliver an experience that is both fun and engaging at every turn. The design team also had a lot of fun playing with plasticine which brought back childhood memories!

Scaled plasticine model of Elephant Park

Scaled plasticine model of Elephant Park

Materials

Porphyry is an igneous rock, formed around 230 million years ago from cooling magma and gets its name from the Ancient Greek word meaning ‘purple’.  

Porphyry was chosen to create the topography of Elephant Springs because it naturally breaks away in large slabs in the quarry.  This means that it is the perfect material for building stepped landforms with a variety of different levels. It is also incredibly hard-wearing and has good slip-resistance when wet. 400 tonnes of stone were supplied by a family-owned quarry in northern Italy and brought to the UK where skilled stonemasons crafted it with great precision into the masterpiece that you see before you. Getting the levels millimetre-perfect was essential to achieving the right distribution of water in the stream beds and pools. You will notice that the water is evenly distributed across the width of the stream beds – this is down to the skill of the team who designed and delivered Elephant Springs!   

Early conceptual volcano sketch

Map of Europe showing the 1393km (876 mile) journey the stone took from Italy to the UK

The quarry in Northern Italy