We see the outside as just another classroom, a natural resource that can be tapped for teaching nearly any subject. Merging indoor and outdoor classrooms is a powerful way of engaging children, enabling play and learning to happen simultaneously, and educating children to be caring stewards of the environment. It is not only the design of the school grounds, but the building as well, that is critical to creating this kind of learning environment.
As in all our work, we pay great attention to the mediating zones between inside and outside and work to develop a full range of places between building and landscape. These transition spaces are dynamic and multipurpose, allowing activities that are typically confined to the classroom to spill outside.
One such school is in Tokyo, Japan, designed by the firm Atelier Zo, where Tina Govan worked as an architect for several years. It is like a village, with classrooms designed as houses gathered around a central courtyard. Indoor classrooms alternate with outdoor ones. A rich variety of transition spaces, called "amai moko" in Japanese, or "ambiguous space," mediates between classrooms and the common courtyard.
Children use the open hallways to gather, exercise, or eat lunch. Even the hall railing is a transition space, a small place to be for two or three children. Places abound for one, two or many, both inside and out, even at a column base.
The Boston Higashi School, designed collaboratively by principal Shun Kanda of Kanda Associates and Tina Govan, is also integral with its surrounding landscape. It is a school for autistic children that alternates teaching with frequent daily exercise, so easy access to the outside and gym were critical. The classroom building wraps its own intimate courtyard and together with the gym, is placed to enclose a larger outdoor area, a natural knoll and clearing in the woods that we discovered when first visiting the site. Building edge and forest edge work in concert to define this shared natural play space. Click here to see more images of this project.
Building and landscape working together, designed as one, creating spaces inside, outside, and everywhere in between, is central to much of the work we do.
In our immediate community, we have volunteered our services to local schools and childcare centers to help them improve the use of their school grounds and buildings. Below are a few examples.
At Raleigh's Conn Elementary we worked with a "Green Team" of parents to improve school grounds, including the planting of a butterfly garden.
Working with teachers and parents, we developed a schematic design for their underused courtyard, proposing a covered performance stage and seating for the adjacent drama classroom, outdoor eating areas, native plantings and a fish pond.
Phase One was construction of the fish pond, led by parent and landscaper David Thome.
The fish pond is now a place where students come outside to study science, sketch, read or talk. For the remainder of the school grounds, we were fortunate to consult with NC State University's Natural Learning Initiative for placement and choice of play equipment and vegetation.
At Exploris Middle School in downtown Raleigh, Tim Martin and Tina Govan are working with 7th graders to develop a plan for growing food on the school grounds. Together with the students, they plan to help design and construct green walls, planters, and other creative ways to support plants vertically or horizontally on this tight urban lot.
As both architect and parent, Tim Martin was enthused to help Raleigh's Follow the Child Montessori School develop a program that outlines its needs and desires. Below is a sampling of the report he assembled so they could better use the land and facilities they had, as well as prepare for the design of the new building they were planning.
Through teacher interviews and careful class observation, Tim created an invaluable brief that will help chart their course for the future.