The Learning Through Landscapes (LTL) UK charity dedicated to enhancing outdoor learning and play for children has identified that the increase in the number of children and therefore school places required in the UK is meaning that we are seeing land within schools, previously used for both play spaces and outdoor learning being given over to the creation of new buildings and building extensions. LTL stresses the importance of school grounds and how the quality and design of them can support and contribute positively to children’s learning and achievement, physical development, behaviour, health and wellbeing, and relationship building (making friends!) within the school and wider community.
Terra firma undertakes landscape design for many educational projects from primary schools through to colleges and universities and I thought I would share some landscape related thoughts and points for schools, councils and architects to consider when embarking on a new project.
The first thing is of course the importance of early consultation between the school, council (if applicable) and design team to understand how existing spaces are used. Are these spaces used for play, learning, sports and/or other events like school fetes? What will be the impacts of losing existing spaces, e.g. will existing play equipment need to be relocated/replaced, will playground markings, trees, vegetation, wildlife areas etc. be lost and where will they be replaced?
Is there an opportunity to revamp or rationalise an existing space? Is there an opportunity for a new building to contribute to forming a positive outside space e.g. can the new building frame a space to form a courtyard, assist in creating a microclimate, provide an outdoor terrace area, incorporate a roof garden/green roof, green wall, capture water for reuse or capture solar energy?
Is there an opportunity to introduce new areas for socialising and learning for example outdoor classrooms and raised planters for vegetable and flower growing? Is there an opportunity for integrating a SUDs scheme into the landscape proposals, create a wildlife pond or maybe a water play scheme? Can the children get involved in the design e.g. in the design of playground markings, seating, ground mosaics or the even the whole scheme?
When considering the design, think about incorporating a variety of spaces e.g. active spaces, quiet spaces, hard and soft spaces and shaded areas. Is the space windy, sunny, shady – how will this affect the design of the space?
Maybe a shade structure is needed, for example a pergola with climbing plants? Are there opportunities for new planting to soften spaces? What about tree planting, a sensory garden, places for wildlife, a wildflower meadow?
There are of course practical things to think about too. Is there an issue with levels? Are ramps required for disable access and buggies? Could level changes present a design opportunity – could a grass amphitheatre or play mounds be incorporated? Where will parents wait to drop off and collect their children? Is lighting, CCTV, a maintenance access and hose-pipe connections (for watering planting) required? Are there security/safe guarding issues – what type of boundary treatment will be required e.g. fencing, hedges and what type of gate access control is required? When considering the design of play spaces are the proposals suitable for the age range of the children who will be using them? Has adequate space been made available for play equipment fall zones and safety surfacing? Are there impacts on existing trees or on wildlife? If so what other specialist advice is required – tree issues might require specialist advice from an arboriculturalist; impacts on wildlife might require an ecologist’s input; planning issues might require a planning consultant’s input? What are the provisions for maintaining any new planting proposals? Maybe there is a school champion for vegetable growing? Of course when embarking on a new school landscape design a landscape architect can assist!