Landscape architecture in education: Whole-school living and learning

Landscape architecture in education: Whole-school living and learning

By Virginia Ross, Williams Ross Architects

Traditionally, landscape in school settings has been largely focused on providing formalised sports and physical activity spaces and greening the edges of buildings, but landscape in modern schools can do so much more — often with less. The spaces between our buildings can be seen as opportunities for creating ‘fine-grained’ outdoor ‘rooms’ that provide a wide range of fitness, recreational and educational experiences.

Every school wants to have as full a complement of sports fields and outdoor activity opportunities as possible for both curriculum and co-curricular structured activities. Often, our inner-city schools have to adopt intensive, multi-purpose spaces to achieve those facilities on tight sites — or indeed, invest in such grounds at a distance from the main campus. But these in-between spaces can deliver a high level of outdoor living and learning experiences if carefully designed.

In amongst our educational buildings, a broad range of less formal activities can be enabled as multi-purpose areas: this could be as simple as re-bound walls, small games courts (fives, hop-scotch and so on), small climbing

walls and so on. Meanwhile, around the edges of the big ovals running and multi-exercise tracks can add value to what were previously green ‘run-off’ zones demanding maintenance.

It is odd that ‘play’ equipment is expected in primary school settings but uncommon on secondary schools. Older students, too, will benefit from equipment and structures that enable them to move and exercise in different ways to classroom activity. Exercise stations with interpretive signage can be installed in small clusters spread across the campus. These enable casual student use as well as PE classes’ programmed activities. Of course, appropriate installations, soft fall surfaces and equipment certification are essential to manage risk.

Landscape R&R

The use of more nuanced outdoor ‘rooms’ for rest and relaxation outside of structured activities has become more valued. These outdoor green spaces are vital for students and staff to have ‘down’ time outside the classroom and work setting, resting eyes and mind and getting fresh air. The wellbeing benefit of so-called ‘passive’ recreation areas can be significant.

At Sacred Heart College in Oakleigh (pictured above), a small inner-city campus, the central courtyard was a barren wasteland until transformed with sensitive landscape design (MDG Landscape Architects) as part of a campus master plan. Clever integration of hard-wearing but comfortable seating that supports groups of girls socialising has transformed the space. Artificially grassed mounds provide natural seating and this small courtyard has become intensely used — and loved. The design clearly understands the way students gather during their breaks.

These hospitable spaces are especially important for those students who aren’t necessarily sporty or likely to bounce a bat and ball during breaks — the widest possible range of recreation needs and styles should be supported to encourage students to engage, socialise and get active.

Landscape as learning environments

Increasingly, outdoor areas and landscaping are being enriched as places for learning and teaching. Kitchen and environment gardens are great ways for students to learn outside of the traditional classroom setting while getting active and hands dirty. Supplying the school canteen with food made within food technology programs adds even more meaning and value to both gardens, educational and sustainability programs.

Catholic Ladies College Year 7 Deck

We need to use the whole of our school campus as learning and living places. Courtyards and terraces can be effective outdoor learning settings if good design integrates direct classroom access, weather shelter, outdoor technology and creative, robust furniture supporting group and individual work.

Just like our indoor facilities, these outdoor rooms can be worked hard through thoughtful design, providing multiple uses for both structured and casual activity that will benefit student and staff wellbeing and delight our sense.

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