By Trevor Smith, Senior Principal Engineering Geologist, Tonkin + Taylor

Art and engineering has united in Melbourne to create a captivating ‘risky’ playground. This innovative space, born from a collaboration between artist Mike Hewson and geotechnical engineers in Australia, has transformed an underdeveloped urban area into a one-of-a-kind play area for children.

New Zealand artist, Mike Hewson, has designed a public playground in Melbourne named ‘Rocks on Wheels’, which features 24 massive rough-hewn bluestone boulders with wheels attached, giving the illusion that they can move. Nicknamed ‘Rolling Rocks’, the Southbank Boulevard Play Space project showcases the potential of interdisciplinary collaboration to make a positive impact on communities.

Encouraging experimentation

The playground is intended to look risky, with slides, swings and monkey bars all connected around the boulders without any handrails or platforms. Despite its haphazard appearance, the playground is safe and built to encourage ‘risk-play’, pushing children to explore and experiment.

While the floor around the boulders resembles the bluestone pavers used across Melbourne’s public spaces and walkways, it is actually made of soft-fall matting that is made to look like stone. Having completed five large-scale public art commissions in Australia, many of them being sculpture park playgrounds, Mr Hewson’s aim is to pioneer new ways to merge conceptual art projects into the public realm.

Bringing the vision to life

Mr Hewson was inspired by a 1960s Hollywood set photo featuring fake rocks on skates. With the support of the City of Melbourne, he aimed to bring this concept to life in the form of an innovative playground in South Melbourne. To help bring Mr Hewson’s vision to fruition, Tonkin + Taylor was enlisted to offer its engineering expertise.

Tonkin + Taylor visited the quarry to procure the boulders, selecting those with lower susceptibility to fracturing, and provided guidance on the placement of rock bolts to reduce the potential for fractures. This technical support was crucial to ensure the playground was both safe and aesthetically pleasing, while also achieving Mr Hewson’s vision.

Seamless collaboration

Usually, during the landscape design process, the original concept often gets changed and compromised as it goes from design to construction. However, through collaboration, Mr Hewson was involved in every part of the project. With Tonkin + Taylor’s help, the team could engineer the structure’s most challenging features, including a water fountain made of building offcasts.

This project not only provided a creative outlet for Mr Hewson, but also served as a unique and enjoyable challenge for the engineers at Tonkin + Taylor. The boulders are expertly engineered into the ground, providing a safe and unique play environment for children.

The success of this project can be attributed to the seamless collaboration between Hewson, Tonkin + Taylor, and the City of Melbourne and other consultants.

The project highlights the incredible possibilities that arise when art and engineering come together. Ultimately, the Rolling Rocks playground stands as a symbol of interdisciplinary collaboration and its potential to make a positive impact on communities.

If your organisation is looking to find creative solutions for engineering challenges, contact the experienced team at Tonkin + Taylor. Visit their website or call 03 9863 8686


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