Asif Khan adds elevated wooden play area to east London primary school

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To provide children at this primary school with more room to play, London designer Asif Khan has created a stilted structure that stands two metres above the playground (+ slideshow).

The Chisenhale Primary School Playground by Asif Khan in East London, UK

Khan, whose two children attend Chisenhale Primary in London's Tower Hamlets, designed the addition following a conversation with the school's headteacher.

The Chisenhale Primary School Playground by Asif Khan in East London, UK

Due to lack of space and increasing number of pupils, the pair realised that the school needed a more "unconventional" approach, as opposed to just buying new equipment.

The Chisenhale Primary School Playground by Asif Khan in East London, UK

"The school has been talking about new play equipment for a long time," Khan told Dezeen. "The number of pupils has been increasing, but the play 'footprint' hasn't."

The Chisenhale Primary School Playground by Asif Khan in East London, UK

"Physically the outside space was too small," he added. "We needed to increase the play area without impacting on the PE [physical education] area and existing access routes to the building."



Khan began by running a series of workshops and homework assignments across the year groups to better understand what was missing.

The Chisenhale Primary School Playground by Asif Khan in East London, UK

"The children even self-organised a playground committee," he said. "By the end of this process every child in the school designed a playground. Some of the ideas like unicorns were difficult to source."

The Chisenhale Primary School Playground by Asif Khan in East London, UK

He found that many of the children wanted a quiet space – somewhere with flexible usage, but that was not out in the open.

As the teachers needed to be able to see the children, Khan conceived a design with vertical thermally modified American tulipwood and ash slats – creating the feeling of enclosure without hidden corners.

The Chisenhale Primary School Playground by Asif Khan in East London, UK

Because of its durable yet adaptable properties, timber was chosen to construct the majority of the structure. Recycled rubber tyre chippings provide a soft covering for the surrounding floor, and galvanised steel forms the structural frame.

"You'll notice the structure runs a line along one of the exterior walls of the school," said Khan. "By shifting the angle of the new structure we created a space in-between, as well as softening the backdrop of the existing 17.5-metre-high elevation."

The Chisenhale Primary School Playground by Asif Khan in East London, UK

A hill covered in the tyre chips leads up to the play area, and was created to provide a moment of "natural topography". Children clamber up the hill aided by a rope on one side, and can reach the bottom via a metal slide on the other.

"The hill form is from Aso in Japan, a miniature of a mound that Rinko Kawauchi photographed," Khan added. "We made a 3D print of it and gave it to the man in the mechanical digger."

The Chisenhale Primary School Playground by Asif Khan in East London, UK

Khan has also designed one of the four Summer Houses that will accompany this year's Bjarke Ingels-designed Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London's Kensington Gardens.

Drawing upon the similarities between his design for the summer house and the play area, Khan noted that both projects have moments of "choreography and freedom".

The Chisenhale Primary School Playground by Asif Khan in East London, UK

"In the school it means entrusting the children as explorers," he added. "In both, the users are welcomed to define their own way through the architecture."

Khan's previous projects include a pavilion in the London 2012 Olympic Park that can be played like a musical instrument, and an installation in Melbourne's Federation Square.

Photography is by Hélène Binet.


Project credits:

Architect: Asif Khan Ltd
Client: Chisenhale Primary School
Structural Engineer: AKT II
Timber fabrication and installation: Aldworth James and Bond
Ground works and play equipment: Duncan & Grove
Steel fabrication and installation: M&M architectural
Made with the generous donation of expertise, materials and time from: American Hardwood Export Council, AKT II structural engineers, The Worshipful Company of Weavers, Chisenhale Parent Teachers Association, and the pupils, parents and teachers of Chisenhale Primary School

Plan of the Chisenhale Primary School Playground by Asif Khan in East London, UK
Plan – click for larger image
Section of the Chisenhale Primary School Playground by Asif Khan in East London, UK
Section – click for larger image
  • james eden

    I like the slide into the wall. This designer needs to look at EN1176, forced movement requires three metres off the end of a slide. Just sayin’.

    • Michael

      I think that you will find that the horizontal section at the end of the slide makes up the required end distance after the end of the graded section. Just sayin’.

  • KuriousOranj

    This is great but it would have been more kid-friendly if they’d designed it in colour!

    • Firon

      Beauty is in the simplicity of form, the genius to elevate the form to create a secondary space below and create paths of travel up and down the object, and to simplify the palette of materials. The children can be the colour.

  • Chris

    But why the black and white photography?

    • Ian Nairn

      An attempt to elevate what is a perfectly serviceable but otherwise relatively uninteresting project into something that a website might publish?

      • Leon

        I beg to differ. It is a brilliantly resolved design, built with the cooperation of many partners. What a successful and beautiful end result.

    • Brian

      Why not?

  • WUT

    Play is supposed to be vibrant. Why take pictures in black and white?

  • Happycamper

    “The hill form is from Aso in Japan, a miniature of a mound that Rinko Kawauchi photographed,” Khan added. “We made a 3D print of it and gave it to the man in the mechanical digger.”

    Awesome, this is how I’m going to design from now on.

  • Calvin

    Asif is one of the few young-generation architects out there, who has deeply understood modern architecture and how to challenge it with both program and material innovation on every different project.

    One might easily say, the British might finally have found their own home bred “Herzog & de Meuron”.

    • Youth Of Today

      Let’s keep things in perspective… Asif is indeed a great prospect. Let’s see a bit more complex built work however before anointing with such grand statements. No need to pile the pressure on.

  • James

    Fantastic work by a fantastic studio. There’s a consistency to his work that suggests a clear vision.