CERES Playspace: Meet the designer

terra wonder playspace:
meet the designer

Stephen Mushin is the industrial designer behind the Terra Wonder Playspace. CERES chatted to him about his journey from idea to construction.

What excites you about soil?

A teaspoon of healthy soil can contain more microbes than there are people on earth – billions of individual organisms, and millions of different species.

These tiny insects, miniature worms, bacteria, algae, fungi and other microscopic workers are essential to much of life on earth – yet most of us know little about them.

Have you ever worked on a design of this size before?

I currently spend most of my days designing dinosaur-sized mechanical contraptions – for an illustrated book I’m creating.

However, the Australian Play Standards do limit the physical size of what I can design for a play space… In Sydney I designed a 15-meter-tall termite-mound maze. It was made out of 4,000 milk crates. That was fairly epic. But it was ONLY 10 times the size of a real-life termite mound. With CERES Terra Wonder we’re scaling up! Terra Wonder structures are 500 times the size of real life. And we have a microbes section that’s 20,000 times magnified. Soil ecosystems are are unbelievably massive. And bigger is always better.

How did you decide on which creatures to include in your design?

Once we developed the idea of designing Terra Wonder at scale 500:1 – imagining a clod of earth scaled up by five hundred times – Nick (CERES site manager and Terra Wonder Playspace Creative Director) and I brainstormed different things we might find on that bit of ground. Creatures and objects to include in the design needed to be both interesting parts of the soil ecosystem, and ridiculously fun to think about. They also had to be constructible in a way that wasn’t tooooo dangerous.

Nick and I are both fans of recycled excavator machinery (who isn’t?). My first creature design was a beetle concept. It had eight massive recycled excavator arms for legs and mandibles. It was super cool. But the legs were a problem: falling onto steel can be painful. For our largest climbing structure we needed a concept that was safe. Luckily I had a huge mechanical millipede concept which had been previously rejected by another city council. They thought it was far too risky*But CERES loved it.

The Mechanical Millipede has 136 legs made from recycled rope that Nick salvaged from the ship, The Spirit Of Tasmania. And soft little legs meant we could make the millipede as high as possible without worrying about bone-crunching falls. For CERES I doubled the size of my previous millipede design and we added a heap of new steampunk features. We found scrap robot arms (real ones from the Holden car factory) and recycled augers for drilling and digging. We found recycled chocolate-making cauldrons from Cadbury for the millipede’s skull and jaw, and bald motorcycle racing tyres for a mechanically accurate, person-ejecting millipede bottom.

Other elements in the space were informed by curious mechanisms and strange found objects. Nick has a passion for making things with truck gearboxes. That led to a working crane design – which kids will use to build structures. Enormous steel pipes will eventually become insect burrows with echo chambers and trapdoors. And I’m obsessed with Basket Fungi – on which I based the fungi climbing structure. Incidentally it’s basket fungi season right now. I’m currently visiting a forest twice a day – to try and catch one exploding into life! Google them – they’re crazy cool.

How long did the design take from concept to finished structures?

I‘ve spent about a year designing Terra Wonder with CERES. And it’s been an awesome collaborative process.

The process involved a few months of mapping out key play areas, sketching designs, making 3D basic computer models and workshopping mechanisms and materials. In this time Nick collected a lot of bulldozer gears, excavator buckets, gearboxes and other bits of recycled industrial junk. Nick’s found-objects inspired my design drawings, and my design drawings sent Nick on wild goose chases to find the perfect recycled bits. At one point I was on the phone to Nick – from New Zealand – using Google Maps to search rail yards in Melbourne for spherical steel pressure vessels. They are very difficult to find.

We workshopped our landscape with an amazing group of play experts. We collected ideas from kids. And after about six months we began working with lead builder Adam Cogger and a bunch of talented local craftspeople to build the designs – innovating all along as new found objects and materials were incorporated into the final outcome.


It is almost certainly the largest millipede in the world. But it is DEFINITELY the largest biogas-powered-mechanical-millipede with robot arms and a working rubber bottom. It is also the only millipede in the world that eats people (millipedes are typically vegetarian).


Definitely. Terra Wonder has been catapulted with Pick My Project. But about half of what we’ve dreamed-up is still yet to be funded.

CERES is still looking for funding to build the truck gearbox crane, the underground burrows, cement-truck-barrel-tree-cocoons, a spitfire-caterpillar art studio made from a recycled train carriage, and a ginormous excavator arm entrance to scare away helicopter parents. The gateway design depicts a battle scene (or a dance, depending on how you look at it) between machines and nature – the terrifying steel arm pitched against my favourite digging insect – the humble Mole Cricket.

Happily, at scale 500:1, nature and the Mole Cricket will DEFINITELY win against the excavator.

Hopefully at scale 1:1 too.


Stephen Mushin

Stephen Mushin is an industrial designer who designs science-based adventure spaces. He collaborated with CERES to design Terra Wonder.

Instagram: @stephenmushin

*CERES has engaged renowned Playground risk assessor Paul Grover to ensure that everything fits within the Australian Standards – which helpfully advise: “Risk-taking is an essential feature of play provision”. Also see this article by Terra Wonder fan Barbara Champion, who writes on the risk of making playgrounds too safe.
Huge thanks to our makers: Adam Cogger, Nick Curmi, Adrian Mathie, John Burne, Peter Cox, Evan Humphries, Andy Burns and recycled rubber expert Catherine from Woz Waste. And to our play experts and engineering consultants: Chris Ennis, Mary Jeavons, Marcus Veerman, Paul Grover, Catherine Curmi, Frank Cichello, Lauren Kaszubski, Alli Joy, Vanessa Chapple, Lindy de Wijn and Rosie Curmi. Special thanks to Chris Ennis, who found the project its funds, and has endlessly encouraged us to reach for the tree-tops.


Corner of Roberts & Stewart Streets, Brunswick East, VIC 3057
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