Kids’ Rock!
by Karla Christensen

Kids Rock 1
Photo courtesy of Karla Christensen.

Three months to design and contract, and three months to build, “Kids’ Rock!” is finished! Inspired by Teardrop Park in New York City, Banda Aceh in Indonesia now has a huge hill of boulders smack in the middle of the city. Built on top of a six meter high pyramid of gabions, hundreds of boulders were carefully stabilized one on top of the other to create an entire environment that is aimed at play. Nestled in the boulders are agaves, bamboos and vines, caves, resting areas, and some challenging climbing spaces.  The top promises shade inside what we call the “gunongon,” which represents the play hill for the wife of the Turkish Sultan who ruled the area four hundred years ago.

Kids Rock 2
Photo courtesy of Karla Christensen.

I designed the space to be multi-generational where all ages can meet, rest under shade, safely play, and have fun. Stairs lead up to the gunongon on the boulder hill, with two slides cascading down into two separate 18” deep sand beds. One sand pit is for the 2-5 years olds and the other is for 5-12 year olds. There are two pumps for the younger children to haul water into the sand to build castles, and also a Komodo dragon and large turtle on which they can play. For those 13 years and up, there is a 3 meter high climbing wall that tempts teenagers to test their strength. And for the adults who are not in the sand or slide with the children, there is a therapy walk with smooth stones for the barefooted, benches surrounding a concrete footpath, and plenty of shade and grass for picnics or relaxing.

Kids Rock 3
Photo courtesy of Karla Christensen.

Following the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004, billions of dollars were sent to the province of Aceh from donors around the world. Roads, schools, hospitals, businesses were among the reconstruction projects. Three years later non-governmental organizations focused on more development and long term projects, which led to the reconstruction of Taman Sari Park. The reconstruction of this park, one of the only parks in Banda Aceh and brutally destroyed by the tsunami, was funded by Catholic Relief Services, with a community center in the middle surrounded by a multi-purpose field. Within the park, 3,200 square meters were left unfinished and completely vacant for over a year. Mercy Corps, for which I worked at the time, subsequently offered to complete it.

The total cost of the project was $140,000. All materials were locally purchased and fabricated, which not only supported struggling businesses in the area, but guaranteed community ownership and the ability to replace and repair parts when necessary. The fiberglass slides were built on-site over a metal reinforcement bar frame, ferro cement, and six 1mm layers of heavily polished colored fiberglass imbedded into the structure.

Kids Rock 4
Photo courtesy of Karla Christensen.

The large, smooth boulders all came from a nearby quarry. The beautiful coral-colored sand came from a Mercy Corps partner village on the coast, and all plant materials were donated by nurseries within the area. Even the concrete sidewalks have a local touch with imaginative pebble mosaics carefully created by Acehnese children. The Mayor of the city was very involved, and of course with his office overlooking the park, he has committed his Parks and Recreation Department to its maintenance for years to come.

Kids Rock 5
Photo courtesy of Karla Christensen.

Karla Christensen is a landscape architect who designs children’s play and learning landscapes overseas and manages international humanitarian aid projects. She has worked in Albania, Kosovo, and Bosnia and currently lives and works in Sri Lanka. She can be reached at:

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