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Cave for Kids

Preindustrial waste takes shape as a place to play.

By Alanna Malone
March 2012
The recycled foam material comes in a variety of colors.
Photo © Grethe Fredriksen
The recycled foam material comes in a variety of colors.

Youngsters at Breidablikk Kindergarten in Trondheim, Norway, are enamored with their newest amusement—a 172-square-foot cube structure speckled with rainbow-colored bits and topped off with a layer of artificial grass. Haugen/Zohar Arkitekter, an Oslo-based practice established by Marit Justine Haugen and Dan Zohar, was commissioned for the "Cave for Kids" after the firm created an outdoor fireplace for another Trondheim kindergarten made with leftover construction materials. But in this case, instead of an enclosed space for kids to enjoy a fire and storytelling on chilly winter days, the client requested a play area.

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The children play hide-and-seek around the mini cave, clamber up the sides, or rest quietly in one of the many nooks. The firm was inspired by natural caves for the design and searched adamantly for a building material before discovering recycled XP foam. "The material is soft foam and suitable for playing children," says Haugen.

The open-cell XP foam material was collected from various manufacturers throughout Europe instead of being burned or sent to the landfill. The waste product was then scrapped into smaller particles, thermally bonded, and constructed into a cube using compressed, glued layers. A water jet cutter was used to hollow out whimsical cutouts (in accordance with the architects' design) for the children to hide and play in.

The material is meant for civil, sport, and playground applications, so it has strong capabilities for drainage and protection. It's often used under artificial turf in soccer fields, for example. According to Haugen, the material is 100 percent environmentally friendly and child-safe. The top layer has netting to prevent adventurous youngsters from scrambling on top of the structure and injuring themselves. "The children love it!" Haugen says.

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