May 08, 2019

The Art of Play: A Conversation with GameTime Playscape Designer Justin Killingsworth


“I believe there is an element of art to landscape architecture," says GameTime playscape designer Justin Killingsworth. While standing at the north end of David Carnes Park in Memphis, Tennessee, the nine-acre development funded by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation, he contemplates how the natural character of the site can be connected to the Whitehaven community. In the distance men in hard hats are erecting the beginning structures of a playground amid the clamor of dump trucks and jackhammers. In the midst of what seems like organized chaos, Justin sees land that is undergoing harmonization with the community. For the past year, Justin has been working with the Foundation, community leaders and residents to design the perfect park for the Whitehaven community.


Justin Killingsworth observes the progress at David Carnes Park in Memphis, Tennessee


"The topography and history of a site influences our designs because, rather than working with an ordinary flat surface, we prefer to use the natural elements present to promote an organic atmosphere," Killingsworth says, explaining how he begins every GameTime project by making numerous site visits, taking note of existing plants and geology, and the community wherein the site resides. Elements of the site other designers sometimes overlook are given a central role in Killingsworth’s work.


“I believe there is an
element of art to
landscape architecture."


At Drum Barracks Park, for instance, he designed a play space to pay tribute to the Civil War historic site. Once a military barracks, it is now a community destination with educational and historical markers and a giant camel play structure to represent the Civil War-era Camel Corps of California. The camel is central to the design and demonstrates how Killingsworth considers the young children using the spaces he designs for GameTime. " We make a place where a child's imagination can really soar”, he says. Giving an area the space it needs to accommodate play works well with his use of the history and topography of a site. It is this combination that distinguishes his work. His creative process brings an added artistic element to landscape architecture. 


This climbable camel play structure was part of Justin's design for Drum Barracks Park in California


Killingsworth began his path to landscape architecture as a freshman in high school, working as a man on the ground for a community project. “I was physically building the playground with other volunteers,” recalls Killingsworth. “I knew I wanted to work outside when I was older, and the architect in charge of the project was walking around the site supervising construction. He had a vision, and I thought that was a role I wanted one day.” It was in college when he decided to combine his love of the outdoors and hands-on design. At the University of Tennessee Killingsworth earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Landscape Design, and continued his education at Louisiana State University, earning a Master’s Degree in Landscape Architecture. His education and experience have been invaluable at GameTime as a playscape designer. 


Brainerd Baptist School play, activity and outdoor learning areas - Design by Justin Killingsworth


Among the many projects he designed, most are intended for children and families. For Brainerd Baptist School in Chattanooga, Tennessee he integrated the natural landscape into an inclusive playground and activity space to enrich the lives of students through play, recreation and outdoor learning. "When I first walked the site, I noticed there was a small, aging play structure and a few ill-defined open areas, but when I saw those towering trees I realized the space had a lot of potential,” Killingsworth recalls his first impression of the site. His playground designs, including his redesign of the Brainerd Baptist School playground, have been shown to scores of readers of landscape architecture publications, including Landscape Architecture Magazine and Landscape Architect Specifier News.


At his office in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Justin Killingsworth describes his creative process


Behind the scenes, Killingsworth has created many grand outdoor gardens, play spaces, and parks. He does so from the comfort of his office where he maneuvers landscapes, topography and play equipment through digital tools. He creates sketches and renderings, cinematic animations and 3D models to help customers envision the finished project. But it all begins with a conversation, a blank page in a notebook (that Killingsworth is never seen without) and a vision for making the community a better place. “You work together, imagine everything, put it onto paper or into the computer and create a vision everyone believes in,” says Killingsworth. “But ultimately, all of the planning, discussions and drawing…it comes together on the site in the real world. We create more than a park or a playground. We create a work of art.”