Serious About Play at Badlands

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Badlands Playspace is officially open in Rockville, MD! From holistic visioning to branding to interior and landscape architecture, our entire collective worked together to create a nature-inspired experience that fosters community. Adventure into the details with us.

When founders Mikel and David Blair approached Streetsense to design an unprecedented indoor playspace, they knew that we were not experts in child development. Before diving into design work, we made it our mission to fully immerse in the project and the “science of play”—and had a lot of fun along the way. We relived childhood memories as we visited countless playspaces in the DMV and learned about social and emotional growth from childhood development experts. After extensive research, we arrived at three key themes that would ultimately shape Badlands—creating zones of proximal development, bringing nature indoors, and catering to caregivers as well as children.

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Zones of proximal development are defined by what a child can do with help or on their own. We learned that children self-select the way that they want to play, avoiding certain risks based on their zone of proximal development. To naturally reflect this theory of learning in a space that needed to accommodate children ages 3 to 13, we designed the space with different levels of risk, allowing older children to gravitate towards rockier terrain and higher slides, and for toddlers to hightail it to rolling mounds and low lying logs. The varying levels of risk allow the different ages to utilize the same space, but instinctively separate them.

Additionally, children of the same age groups prefer to learn in different ways, whether it be by releasing energy and interacting with others or spending time in a hands-on environment. While the open playspace is the main focal point of Badlands, it contains a variety of auxiliary spaces—a screening room for movies, a butterfly atrium, and a workshop where little ones can craft and design.

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From the Badlands logo to the real birch trees, the founders wanted the space to be evocative of nature, reflecting the unstructured play and creativity that occurs outdoors. To encourage “choose your own adventure play,” we designed the space with a range of terrains—with mountains for climbing, tunnels for hiding, open space for playing tag, and a labyrinth for reflection or reading.

To create the indoor equivalent of an outdoor playspace, we tapped a team member with landscape architecture for expertise. One of the biggest challenges was meeting building codes that aren’t required for outdoor structures. Careful consideration was taken into critical fall space so that little ones stay safe, and ceiling height and column spacing were key factors in selecting a location. (Fun fact, Badlands is housed in a former Safeway!)

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To differentiate Badlands from other indoor playspaces, we designed the environment to be one where parents would want to spend time. An airy, bright, and open layout and a healthy, delicious food and beverage program were key factors in meeting this goal. Along one side of the playspace perimeter is a café that features healthy grab and go and made-to-order options, as well as a top-notch espresso bar and full-serve bar. Thanks to a panoramic view of the playspace from the café, parents can set up their laptop and sip a latte while keeping an eye on the kids.



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