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19.12.2014 - Ausgabe: 6/2014

Design primer for sustainable schoolyards

By Prof. Horst Schumacher, Fachhochschule Erfurt


Sustainable development is a terribly overstretched term and is often used in a way that warps its meaning. The Gestaltungsfibel "Nachhaltiger Schulhof" (design primer for sustainable schoolyards) hopes to make a contribution to meaningful use as part of future-orientated sustainable development and future-orientated education for sustainable development. This work is based on student projects involving five years of intensive work as well as on meticulous research by research associates.
The primer tries to provide answers to the question of how a schoolyard can be transformed or newly constructed in order to allow it to be termed a sustainable schoolyard. In other words, the question of with and on which objects in the schoolyard pupils can be enabled to enjoy a corresponding physical and sensual experience.
As the primer does not attempt to formulate global policy goals in relation to sustainable development, as discussed at the 1992 conference in Rio de Janeiro, but addresses the concrete built world of things, it is first necessary to clarify the precise composition of the objects and things. Consequently, this requires parameters and indicators by means of which the differing composition of objects can be described and characterised. This, so to speak, provides the necessary toolbox.

All the time, a landscape architect is required to take steps within a goal-setting process, regardless of whether these are large or small steps. This setting of goals normally comprises four logical phases. These are as follows:
 Problem structuring
 Solution seeking
 Solution recommendation
 Solution implementation2
Specific service phases can be assigned to these four logical phases, such as those described in detail in the HOAI (Honorarordnung für Architekten und Ingenieure) [Ordinance on Architects' and Engineers' Fees]. These allow the entire process, from commissioning to handover of the final transformation and redesign of a schoolyard, to be described. The pupils and teachers, as users of the future facility, of course play the main role here. However, the planning process can develop in a very abstract way. The users do not necessarily have to be integrated into, i.e. involved in the development from the initial design concept to the handover of the completed projects. But participation is key here if a project is to be pursued that is to contribute to education for sustainable development!
The new Gestaltungsfibel "Nachhaltiger Schulhof" prepares the way for participation that can actually be realised in practice, and in particular the participation of the future users of a schoolyard facility. All those involved in the planning and implementation process must know what the logical steps are and where each interested party can or must be active, and in what way. Then the challenging project of a sustainable schoolyard design should probably succeed. That is the theory. But all know from experience: the questions and problems arise during the actual doing!

Below we shall take one of the ten indicators, namely preventive health measures, to illustrate how one can work with the primer in practice.
This is an indicator that one is tempted to define in terms of social sustainability. However, we will establish that there is a strong case for defining it in terms of economic performance.
There are six questions that describe this indicator:

1. Are there sports areas (e.g. in line with the 1997 school construction recommendations for Thuringia or equivalent recommendations of other federal states)?
2. Are there sports areas that can also be utilised outside games lessons (in breaks or for leisure sport)?
3. Are there offerings encouraging sports activities?
4. Are there offerings promoting e.g. motor skills and balance?
5. Are there offerings promoting rest (stress management)?
6. Is the schoolyard protected against noise and airborne pollutants?

It should go without saying that the relationship between the schoolyard and preventive health measures has much to do with accident prevention. But the primer focuses on sports activities, and the important reason for this lies not in the disciplines of competitive sport, but in the heaviest cost burdens of the health system. The highest costs are incurred by the problems with the circulatory system, the musculoskeletal system and mental illnesses. The causes are a poor diet, lack of movement and stress. The set of questions serves to identify some solutions to these problems. These potential solutions can be summarised as incentives to move more and become more agile. This means that school sport as a subject is only marginally addressed. Rather, it is much more important to create incentives for pupils to overcome the generally prevailing lack of movement or even lethargy. A report by the Federal Centre for Health Education and the Robert Koch Institute published in 2008 states that only a minority of children and young people do the recommended daily one hour of physical activity. This decreases even further from the onset of puberty, especially among girls. "The greatest deficits," it argues, "can be observed among boys and girls from families with low social status, those with a migrant background or growing up in the new federal states." (Gestaltungsfibel "Nachhaltiger Schulhof", p. 60)
Sensible offerings in the school canteen and the offerings in the schoolyard will both improve eating habits as well as increasing stamina, agility and skilfulness. At the same time, niches and spatial units that can be comprehended and experienced while not exercising are needed to enable pupils to rest and unwind. These are amenities and images that have nothing in common with sports facilities constructed in line with the standards of high-performance sport, but everything to do with movement and running landscapes. These are marked out by their great variations along a single track, with bends, different heights, and with rough and smooth surfaces.

With the structural requirements described above, a number of steps can be taken in the pursuit of goal setting. First, the checklist includes the main elements for a careful stocktaking that is then assessed. But the checklist is also an aid to conceptual work because it can be worked through in precise detail, so that nothing is left untried which, to show the indicators listed in the primer in the best light, can in future lead to the schoolyard achieving a very high level of sustainable development.
That which has just been addressed in relation to the work of landscape architects can accordingly also apply to pupils and teachers. It makes a lot of sense to integrate, for example, the stock taking and evaluation into teaching units. Then there can be something for every age level that serves to explore the environment of the "classroom" as a place of learning, examine it carefully and assess it.


Which route should sustainable schoolyard development take? First it is necessary to point out that sustainable schoolyard development is not a revolutionary change, and the primer makes this very clear. It examines elements of the design of outdoor space that have meanwhile achieved a certain degree of "normality", which are known and also tried and tested in technical terms. What is new about sustainable schoolyard development is that these familiar elements of designed outdoor space are no longer only possibilities for designing the school's outdoor terrain. These are not options, but indispensable parts of a highly complex whole that is called the "sustainable schoolyard".
Why indispensable? Well, because it is only through playing together and working together that the called-for balance can be attained, one that creates and preserves equilibrium between the following aspects: ecological compatibility, social justice and economic performance. The "destination" is therefore a schoolyard that actually looks new. Functionality with performance capability in every aspect, the description of sustainable development in a schoolyard, in combination with high design quality: these can generate an "image world" of everyday culture able to shape childhood and youth to such an extent that conscious sustainable action can become possible for the first time. Acting sustainably does not at all mean having to do without something; it is not a call to suffer privations. That is not what was meant by Gro Harlem Brundtland in 1987 when he demanded behaviour and action that would also satisfy the needs of future generations. But it did implicitly call on us to, at all times, look very far forward and recognise the consequences of our own behaviour and action, and considers very precisely what would be favourable to or catastrophic for development.
If suitable images cannot be shaped in childhood and youth, whose impact gradually unfolds as an immanent system of values, the call to sustainable behaviour and action is an almost insurmountable task. This is why schools are under such a great obligation, with their teaching, but also with their entire built space, to shape appropriate "image worlds" for children and young people, worlds that radiate with sustainability. The Gestaltungsfibel "Nachhaltiger Schulhof" provides some good ideas on how to cope with this great task and challenge.

1 Schumacher, Horst et al. (eds.): Gestaltungsfibel "Nachhaltiger Schulhof", Bad Berka 2010
The primer is available from the Thüringen Institute für Lehrerfortbildung, Lehrplanentwicklung und Medien, Bad Berka
2 Cf. Weckwerth, Helmut: Kommunale Freiraumplanung, in: Müller / Korda (eds.): Städtebau, Stuttgart, Leipzig 1999; 4th edition, p. 510

Photogaraphies: SIK Holz

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