In terms of color and design, the Energy Carousel resembles a small circus tent – and in your average Dutch housing estate, its rounded shapes and bright shades easily stand out from the surrounding terraced brick houses that line the rest of the road. Part of a large-scale restructuring effort by the municipality of Dordrecht, in collaboration with a number of local housing corporations, the carousel provides a warm and welcoming boost to the district, which used to be plagued by poverty, unemployment, and crime until fairly recently. Over the past decade, however, many of Dordrecht’s homes have been either torn down or fully renovated. Now, the new playground adds the icing to the cake with five creative and inventive play objects for children of different ages. These objects were the result of a design challenge and call for entries by the municipality of Dordrecht and Amsterdam-based design and engineering bureau Carve. Among the winning entries: the vibrant Energy Carousel by Madrid-based studio Ecosistema Urbano.

The Energy Carousel is a self-sufficient structure with a closed energy cycle. Ecosistema Urbano Designers: "We could add more interaction and use the energy in other ways (like sound, image, etc.) but for the moment it's not aimed as a source of renewable energy for external uses."
The Energy Carousel is a self-sufficient structure with a closed energy cycle. Ecosistema Urbano Designers: “We could add more interaction and use the energy in other ways (like sound, image, etc.) but for the moment it’s not aimed as a source of renewable energy for external uses.”

Part of the energetic fun are hanging ropes and swings arranged at different levels. Closer to the edges, the ropes become increasingly shorter, dividing the carousel into different play areas. While younger kids glide around the central pole on fixed seats, older children might head for the swings. By pulling on the ropes, they generate energy that is stored in an underground battery, supplying the power to light the roundabout after dark: The light’s color will vary according to the level of energy put in by the kids throughout the day.

By experiencing the impact of their input first hand, the children are prompted to engage with the project and join the fun. Through play, they learn that it takes energy to light up the carousel – and to supply their own homes with power. By emphasizing this vital relationship, the Energy Carousel could make kids more aware of their own energy consumption. So, although the mechanism behind it all is as simple as a bicycle dynamo, it can have a great effect on the next generation.

Furthermore, this interactive object could serve as a blueprint for a productive civic infrastructure; one that is part of the neighborhood’s fabric. Although the overall energetic effect is rather small, it communicates the essential function of energy and its production in our everyday lives. In future, schemes like this might even generate more direct and tangible benefits by lowering the cost of energy consumption and making communities more resilient to the repercussions of environmental change.

Text: Kim Hoefnagels
All photos, incl. the header image: Emilio P. Doiztúa for Ecosistema Urbano, CC BY-SA