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The barrier-free outdoor facilities of Steinwald School Everything out of the ordinary

Rabea Seibert (KuBuS Freiraumplanung GmbH & Co. KG)


The out-dated and not barrier-free outdoor facilities of Steinwald School in Berlin for children with special needs have been completely reformed and adapted to the specific needs of its students.

The Steinwald School for children with special needs is situated in the Marienfelde district of Berlin-Tempelhof. Its main focus is on "mental development". The students taught at Steinwald School are between 6 and 12 years old. Most of them have multiple mental and physical handicaps. Thus, there is a high demand for special therapeutic treatment and support. In the framework of its all-day care concept approximately one hundred children are taught and attended by approximately sixty pedagogical specialists.

For a long time, the school was housed in a school building with old outdoor facilities dating back to the 1970s. The structural concept was not sufficient for the special pedagogical challenges of a school for children with special needs as no consistent barrier-free accessibility was available.

In addition, the outdoor facilities were out-dated and rotten. The entrances had been retrofitted with provisional ramps. Most of the borders in the school yard were high kerbs and hard to overcome. There were no barrier-free play facilities. The traffic training area was situated too close to important entry and exit areas which provoked many dangerous situations whereas the sports field was oversized for the actual needs of the school.

However, a variety of subsidies allowed the highly motivated school and sports authority of the district of Tempelhof-Schöneberg to redesign and reconstruct the school and its outdoor facilities. The existing buildings which were to be reformed (classroom building and sports hall including a therapy pool) were complemented by a canteen as a connecting construction and a new central entry and exchange area according to the design concept of the architectural office Numricht Albrecht KIumpp.

The redesign of the outdoor area was implemented by the Falkensee-based GaLaBau company Reinhold Fehmer GmbH in cooperation with the company Kernholz GmbH Berlin (play areas).


Concept and design planning

Considering the specific needs of the students of Steinwald School, the general accessibility of the area, which had to be agreed with the users, was the most important aspect during the design planning phase.

Thus, specific play devices were developed and installed which can be used in an integrative way while at the same time they will serve as pedagogical support for instance in the context of sensory perception.

Therefore, the new school yard was subdivided into clear-cut functional areas:

  • Multifunctional sports field
  • Play area
  • Grove of trees
  • Break area
  • Traffic training area
  • Extensive green areas

For the construction of the barrier-free school entrance, the entire school yard surface level next to the building was raised by as much as 15 cm.

As a result, exclusively pavement materials with good walk-ability and rolling characteristics, such as asphalt, water-bound coverings, small-fibre concrete blocks and plastic safety surfaces had to be used.

The entrances are marked as such through high-contrast pedestrian crossing motives. Thus, they serve as a visual orientation aid and connect the interior and exterior spaces.

Varying and diversified space qualities were created by redimensioning, restructururing and redesigning the different functional areas:

  • Density (tree-lined traffic training area) - Width (break area)
  • Action (play devices) - Rest area (wooden platforms)
  • Stay (tree grove) - Exercise (sports field)
  • open (break area) - closed (play area)

The design of strong colours and clear forms defines the individual appearance of the outdoor area.


The sports field

The sports field has been reduced considerably as the former sports field size took away too much space which - according to the standard - was not necessary for the purposes of the Steinwald School. It was converted into a football field with EPDM safety surfaces. To catch the ball, a soft and low-noise ball net system was used ("Soccer Court" of the company SMB Seilspielgeräte), serving as a low fence along the lengths und thus offering an inviting atmosphere and a widely open area.


The tree grove

The tree grove which consists of slim, tall-stemmed trees (Acer platanoides "Columnare") serves as both an eye-catcher in front of the glass wall of the canteen and a shaded lounge area.


The break area

Between the tree grove and the tree-lined traffic training area, the wide and open break area can be used in various ways, for instance for parties and celebrations, group games, cycling etc.

Skipping games features painted on the floor motivate to play and create one's own area design.


The traffic training area

The traffic training area still remains active as such and has retained its complete tree stock. It has just been set back from the entrance area and redesigned insofar as this area offers now barrier-free access and has been supplemented by additional game features on the "traffic islands". A traffic light with signal transmitters for blind and visually handicapped road users has been installed. Some maximum 2 cm high round kerbstones help to train "real situations" in public areas.


Extensive green areas

When restructuring the area, additional green spaces could be generated by adding plants and groups of boulders and locust trunks thus providing the setting of a near-nature play area.

These areas were planted with sturdy, low-maintenance and non-toxic plants (Spirea, Ribes, Philadelphus) as well as fragrant shrubs to attract butterflies (Buddleja, Syringa).


Barrier-free play area as a highlight

Special attention was paid to both the barrier-free accessible devices and areas as well as to different exercise offerings in particular for children with disabilities. So, for instance, a wheelchair carousel, a wheelchair-accessible table football and a turning spinning top to lie on were installed. In addition, the school found it very important to offer as many swinging opportunities as possible. This wish could be fulfilled by building a nest swing, that is to say a pendulum swing which can be swivelled in each direction including a web basket and various regular swings, some of which are equipped with bucket seats and safety belts.

However, the special highlight is the wheelchair-accessible play area with its three towers taking up the design concept of the school building which is subdivided into three main parts. This area offers plenty of space for individual and supported experiences and discoveries.         

The whole structure and the covering consist of untreated oak timber left in its natural state on the external sides and glazed in several shades of pink on the interior surfaces of the towers. All metal parts and metal equipment components are of stainless steel V2A/A2.

The towers are connected at different levels through a long ramp which is suitable for wheelchairs up to the slide which can also be used by wheelchair users due to its barrier-free re-piling and run-out areas.

The towers themselves provide different play offerings. Besides the slide tower, there is also a climbing tower with additional lookouts and a separate closed play house with a funnel phone.

For an optical effect, some of the coloured window panes consist of two-ply transparent and shock-resistant polycarbonate glass with UV-resistant colour foil between them.

The ramp itself was equipped with wind and sensory chimes and has thus become an adventure path.

In addition, there are sandy play areas with wooden deck chairs, further slide elements, motoric shifting games, horizontal lounger webbings, etc...

A planning challenge due to the specific individual needs

In the present case the difficult coordination process of almost all projects concerned was particularly challenging with regard to the design planning because appropriate standard programmes such as those applied to regular schools did not exist. Thus, on the basis of numerous planning discussions the contents and needs had to be worked out by the actors involved themselves. Only on this basis it was possible to develop the design concept.

Due to the high number of children in wheelchairs, the representatives of the school found it particularly important to provide barrier-free accessibility to all devices which should enable the teachers and pedagogues to drive the wheelchair users as close as possible to the respective facility to make it easier to access them (also regarding physical relief of the pedagogues). Thus, even more surface area had to be sealed because neither sandy nor gravel surfaces were suitable fall protection areas. To compensate for this, other surface areas were redesigned and converted into new extensive green areas.

However, the design of many devices and play areas could not be based on usual "off-the-shelf"-solutions. Thus, extensive coordination processes, individual inspections and even several changes had had to be taken into account up to the final phase. 

In addition, the individual solutions according to the needs of the future users require a high level of maintenance which exceed the level expected by the responsible municipal branches. Hence, for this, too, feasible solutions had to be found.

However, to see the children playing on this special barrier-free outdoor area motivates us to implement more such extraordinary projects.


Project data:

Steinwald-Schule, Hanielweg 7-9, 12277 Berlin (Marienfelde),

Design concept of the outdoor grounds:
KuBuS  Freiraumplanung GmbH & Co. KG

Contact partner: Rabea Seibert

Responsible body:
District authority of Tempelhof Schöneberg Berlin, Schools and Sports Department (building authority)

Structural engineering:
Numrich Albrecht Klumpp Gesellschaft von Architekten mbH
(Planning of the school building)

Falkensee-based GaLaBau company Reinhold Fehmer GmbH in cooperation with:
Fa. Kernholz GmbH Berlin (play areas)


Photo: © Nina Straßgütl

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