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Built to Last: Designing Sustainable Playgrounds with Steel
January 18, 2021

Even as we build captivating playgrounds for our children to play in, we must also consider the different methods we can use to preserve Earth’s precious resources for them. “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it”, says Robert Swan, and we could not agree more. To play our part in conserving Earth’s resources, we carefully consider the materials available to us, and select those we feel are appropriate. Our choices must be not only safe for our children, but also contribute to protecting the environment.

One material that we frequently incorporate into our designs is steel. It is popular amongst designers, developers, and architects due to its durability, cost-efficiency, and malleability. Steel is also 100% recyclable, which is bulk of the reason of why we choose to use it. 

What comes to the minds of most people when thinking of steel used in playgrounds are metal swings, seesaws, slides and climbing structures. However, we believe that the usage of steel need not be limited to just those. Due to its structural rigidity and tensile strength, steel can be integrated into the design of the playground in many ways, such as the posts, decks, and clamps of a structure. Even the littlest nut and bolt of a playground can be molded using steel. Hammock swings, climbing ropes, and lounging nets are similarly reinforced with steel in our designs to ensure the utmost safety of our children playing or resting on them. 


Fig 1. The Wallholla playground found at Singapore’s Singpost Centre lets children climb within and outside of the structure

A primary concern we had when designing Wallholla was the material used to keep our children safely in the structure. We needed a copious amount of material to form the cage that would prevent them from falling out, but also hoped to protect the environment as much as possible. After carefully weighing all our options, we decided that steel would be our best bet. Not only is it safe for our children, steel is also sustainable and recyclable, thus minimising – as much as possible – the harm caused to the environment.

All these key components add up when we consider that Singapore has one of the highest densities of playgrounds in the world. Our playgrounds last for an average of 5 to 10 years before they are repurposed or rebuilt to better suit a community’s needs. With the constant cycle of playgrounds being built and remade, the amount of resources that we use is no small matter.

This is the reason as to why we repeatedly use steel in our playgrounds – it is sustainable for both the environment, and its durability ensures that our children are safe from the dangers of wear and tear.

Recycling steel has three core benefits:

1. Steel can be infinitely recycled

The process of recycling steel begins at a scrapyard. Due to its magnetic properties, it is easily separable, making it easy to collect. Steel also retains its properties when recycled and does not degrade in quality or lose any of its intrinsic properties of strength, versatility, and durability.

As such, steel scraps can be used to re-craft both high-value and low-value metal, depending on the demand for it. The high scrap value of steel allows for all parts of it to be recycled at the end of the project, saving on costs required for waste disposal while also reducing landfill waste.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) of Singapore reported that in 2019, 1.27 million tonnes of ferrous metal waste were recycled, which constitutes for 99% of all metal waste in Singapore. This includes stainless steel. The high volume of metal waste can be converted into new metal products such as material for new playgrounds.

All of our efforts contribute to our sustainable approach as part of Singapore’s commitment to Zero Waste.

2. Recycled steel helps to prolong Earth’s resources

According to the American Iron and Steel Institute, one ton of recycled is equivalent to conserving 2,500 pounds of iron ore, 1,400 pounds of coal, and 120 pounds of limestone. The energy used to mine, refine, and transport raw metals is saved when we use recycled steel in our designs.

If there is no demand, there will not be a supply. We contribute to the efforts of prolonging Earth’s resources for our children by using recycled steel, thus cutting down on the substantial amount of waste produced when using completely new material. This includes greenhouse gas emissions and waste by-products that could pollute our soil and groundwater. Moreover, we also minimise the usage of non-renewable sources, saving on valuable raw material for our future generations.


Fig. 2: The spiral airplane made out of steel at Yung Ho Road for our imaginative explorers

3. Recycling steel is cost-efficient

There is always constant global demand for recycled steel. Rather than spending time and money on mining iron ores to refine steel, manufacturers and developers can translate their efforts into recycling steel instead.

The durability of recycled steel also results in its longevity. Its lifespan is long and has excellent resistance against harsh weather and corrosion, rendering it the perfect material to use in Singapore’s humid weather. The usage of steel translates to long-term cost savings on the maintenance, inspection, and repair of playgrounds.


Fig 3. Children playing at the King Crawler found at Eco Ardence

In summary, by using recyclable steel, we hope to encourage sustainability in our designs. Beyond designing simple spaces that entertain, we also hope to go the extra mile by protecting the environment with our thoughtful designs of green spaces in communities.

Although we contribute to our children’s development through enchanting designs of their play spaces, we also have to be wholly wary of the fact that we might be using up the limited and non-renewable resources that they might need in the future. Thus, we believe that it is our responsibility to reduce the environmental impact of our actions on the welfare of the next generation.

We do not inherit Earth from our ancestors. Instead, we borrow her from our children. At Playpoint, we aim to lead the change toward sustainability, one playground at a time, by building play spaces that contribute to the conservation of the environment.