'Individually they are ugly. But in agglomeration they are beautiful,' says Andrew Freear, director of Auburn University's Rural Studio. Freear is referring to the galvanized steel drums making up the design-build studio's latest intervention at Lions Park in Greensboro, Alabama.

Completed in September, the 'playscape,' which replaces a much-vandalized playground, is the fifth element designed and constructed at Lions Park by Rural Studio students. Since 2007, successive thesis classes have built baseball fields, bathrooms, a skate park, and a concession stand in the 40-acre park.

With this most recent piece, the students hoped to create an environment that would foster children's sense of imagination. 'Traditional playgrounds don't encourage make-believe,' says Cameron Acheson, a current Rural Studio staffer and a member of the thesis class that designed and built the playscape. Acheson, along with fellow students Bill Batey, Courtney Mathias, and Jamie Sartory, clustered almost 2,000 of the donated 55-gallon drums'originally used to transport mint oil'in a mazelike arrangement. Kids can hop from the top of one drum to the other and run in between them.

In order to shade the playscape, Chicago-based structural engineer Joe Farruggia helped the students develop a canopy constructed of the drums. With the exception of those that surround vertical tube-steel supports (where extra rigidity was required), the top and bottom of each container have been removed, so that children can see the sky and watch the clouds sweep by. Each cylinder is welded to those adjacent to it in eight places, creating an assemblage that performs structurally like a truss, explains Freear.

Although the studio subcontracted the installation of rubber safety surfacing, the students performed almost all of the remaining work themselves. For each of the cylinders comprising the maze, for example, the students leveled the earthwork, installed geotextile fabric, and spread and tamped gravel. They then placed and leveled each drum, welding it to its neighbors, before starting the process again. It was tedious and backbreaking work, but rewarding, says Acheson. Construction 'was both the best and the most difficult part.'

DESIGNERS: Auburn University Rural Studio


CONTEXT: The playscape replaces an inhospitable playground at a park jointly owned by the City of Greensboro, Hale County, and the local Lions Club.


Client: Lions Park Committee

Design Team: Auburn University Rural Studio*

Structural: GFGR Architects and Engineers*

Landscape: Xavier Vendrell Studio*

Environmental consultant: Atelier Ten*

Architecture: Wheeler Kearns Architects*



55-gallon galvanized barrels: IP Callison*

Steel: Turnipseed International*, Dogan Steel (discounted)

Surfacing: Shaw (partially donated by Strategic
Alliance for Health)

Weathered steel: Dogan Steel (discounted)

*Individual or company donated fully or in part their materials and/or services.