Asif Khan Architects design elevated playground for east London school in thermally modified American hardwood


Asif Khan has designed an elevated playground for Chisenhale Primary School in Bow, East London, which has just completed construction and is the first part of the school’s long-term masterplan.

Khan, who has two children at the school, approached the American Hardwood Export Council and AKT II structural engineers to collaborate with him on the project while the active parent body at the school raised funds through fetes and other events held throughout the year.

The challenging brief required an increase in the play area of this inner city primary school to match the expanded pupil population, without reducing the space required by the P.E curriculum.

The design adds a double-layered play space to the edge of the existing playground, a soft landscape beneath 2.2 metre elevated deck, connected by a hill and two slides.

Asif Khan says: “We designed an inside and outside space where the kids can invent their own play. This terrain is composed of two elements – a soft rubber landscape culminating in a steep hill and an elevated semi-enclosed timber space. The slides and rope nets bridge the vertical. The plan stimulates the kids to move, but also creates quiet spaces where they can rest. In this simple structure we’ve seen so much variety of play created by the children.”

The children at Chisenhale were consulted on the design of the space over a six-month period and had specific ideas they communicated to the architects. The kids wanted places to run and climb, places to hide and somewhere to rest and chat to friends.

Asif Khan says: “We were keen on using timber to provide a friendly layer of texture. The structure is designed to be adaptable and will grow and evolve over time.”

Head Teacher Helen James says: “This is such an exciting place to be for the children. In terms of material the wood fits in so much with what we do at the school with education about being environmentally responsible.”

The structure is built from thermally modified tulipwood slatted panels with a deck structure of thermally modified ash. It will go through a cradle-to-grave Life Cycle Assessment, as do most of AHEC’s projects, and this will be used as a learning opportunity as part of the school’s curriculum.

David Venables, European Director of AHEC says: “We are thrilled to be supporting a project that will educate children about good design, architecture and the environmentally friendly woods that are used for building. We see this as an opportunity for kids to learn about sustainable materials grown in nature that can be used to improve their lives. The thermally modified ash and tulipwoods are incredibly durable for outdoor use so it’s a perfect material for Asif Khan to be using for this project.”

This project was made possible with the generous donation of expertise, materials and time from:

  • Asif Khan
  • AHEC
  • AKT II Structural Engineers
  • The Worshipful Company of Weavers
  • Chisenhale Parent Teachers Association
  • All the Pupils, Parents and Teachers of Chisenhale Primary School

During the manufacturing process, we have recorded all material inputs and energy consumption to assess the environmental impact of this structure, using data from AHEC’s Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) research. LCA is the measurement of the materials and energy used to create a certain object in order to calculate its environmental impact. The American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) has developed this assessment process to help us understand the true environmental impact of using American Hardwoods in design and manufacture. The environmental life cycle assessment profile for the playground structure at Chisenhale will present the cradle-to-grave impact of creating transporting and installing the entire structure for six impact categories, including global warming potential (GWP), or carbon footprint. Read the profile, here.