The Value of Play

Toy blocks, tree forts were landscape architect’s creative foundation

David Fredenburgh spends his days dreaming up ways to entertain millions of people.

Like a lot of kids, Fredenburgh, a designer with international entertainment design company FORREC Ltd., played tirelessly with Lego, making all sorts of fun, colourful structures and environments. Now, he essentially plays every day, while working very hard, in a unique workplace that designs one-of-a-kind entertainment destinations like theme parks for people all over the world to play in – all-ages parks that are like upsized play structures designed to thrill and inspire visitors.

“At FORREC, we like to use the term ‘playing in the sandbox,’ because it is like play,” says Fredenburgh, who works, and plays, out of the company’s Toronto office. “Every day is different. Every project is different. The people I work alongside of are very talented and highly creative individuals. It’s an entertaining job.”

“When I tell people what I do, they automatically assume that I just play RollerCoaster Tycoon all day,” he says. “There are certainly some similarities. It’s thrilling work but also very real, unlike the video game. Theme parks are complex developments of storytelling, attractions, human behaviour and economics.”

Fredenburgh says there was plenty of room for fun and play in the University of Guelph’s landscape architecture program, which he completed in 2013. The program reinforced his playful nature, encouraged him to push the creative envelope and balanced art and science.

“But I certainly didn’t see myself designing theme parks when I first started. I didn’t even think it was a possible career path.”

As part of a professional practice course in his third year, Fredenburgh discovered FORREC and got his first glimpse into the world of entertainment design.

“I was tasked with researching and interviewing a local firm of interest. I interviewed a FORREC executive, and that turned into an internship interview and a placement.” He calls that a turning point in his career.

Following graduation, Fredenburgh was offered a job with the company. Within 18 months, he finished his first theme park project – the monumental Wanda Nanchang, a 78-hectare theme park in the Jiangxi region of China. He calls that achievement a great start to his career.
“I was halfway around the world in China, standing on a construction site and basically watching a design that I had just finished come to life.” While the scale of the project was beyond anything he had previously imagined doing, he grew up with a love of building outdoor structures.

“I was always a maker and creator as a kid. I was always making or assembling something from scraps in my parents’ garage. As I got older, I took my interest in making things to the outdoors. I was interested in making bike trails and building tree forts. This grew into a liking for the outdoor built form and eventually an aspiration to be a landscape architect.”

Storytelling is at the heart of the work FORREC does.

“We take a story or a theme and create a place out of it, something that is completely immersive for guests,” Fredenburgh says. “And storytelling really resonates well with kids and adults alike.”

Theme parks and entertainment destinations, he adds, are important, treasured places where entire families spend their free time having fun. Designing them is a fun challenge.

“You definitely have an understanding that what you’re designing will have an impact on a large number of guests. These places attract millions of visitors a year, and it’s really important to stay focused on the guest experience. At the end of the day, the guests are really the driving factor.”