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Redesigning the schoolyard into a new classroom building

Katharina Marie Erzepky (Munder und Erzepky Landschaftsarchitekten bdla)


Photo

The schoolyard of primary school "Am Reesenbüttel" in the City of Ahrensburg will be redesigned.

Initially the present primary school was planned as an elementary school for the citizens of Reesenbüttel and Daheim, the settlement extensions of the City of Ahrensburg. Hence, the construction of the main building and a small sports hall were finished and inaugurated in 1936. As an addition the old building was complemented by two further classroom extensions in 1957 and 1966 and in 1972 by the large sports hall. A spacious sports field including a synthetic track is also part of the school these days.

The tree stock originates from the former years of foundation. Part of it is, however, in terms of age, considerably older, such as the two English oaks by the roadside which are two real beauties and around 30 metres high, both with their expansive and completely natural crowns. Gardeners cannot imagine a better address than this.

 

The new classroom building

Whereas the classroom building of the first structural extension of 1976 is close to the north-western boundary of the site, the new building of 2016 is built in orthogonal direction to the main building. It consists of two floors and its design is focused on supporting modern teaching practices. The outer shell of the building has been adapted to the red brick theme, so that all buildings - the main building, canteen and new construction - are of one and the same design.

 

Number of students

The school has approximately 400 students. Many of them come by bike or on foot from the surrounding areas. Nevertheless, the verges of Schimmelmann-Street are heavily overcrowded with cars after school because many students are picked up.

 

Functional requirements

Modern teaching practices should be combined with modern open spaces. At the primary school Am Reesenbüttel school breaks are not regarded as annoying interruptions, but as a welcome addition. It is a key factor for the local school managers to integrate open air, natural light, dreams and physical activity into their teaching concept. Accordingly, it was necessary to create acting frameworks according to all movement forms and groups or small groups. 

Equally important, however, is the infrastructure development: break supervision, safe access to the buildings and to maintenance work, transport, waste removal, storage and parking areas, rainwater management.

In addition, the City as the building owner pays considerable attention in all building projects to the cleaning of the foundation ground of their property, reduction of old and covered surfaces, check of the current status of the pipelines dating back to the 1930s and, if necessary, the replacement of defective cables and pipes.

As a local particularity, the wet basement of the main building was to be restructured and thus become a usable space.

These two areas require professional expertise. Thus, the building owner looked for an appropriate engineering consultancy and finally found the engineering office Fiedler Beck based in Hamburg.

However, the coordination of all content issues within the design planning and building processes is the responsibility of the landscape architects.

 

Participation

For the landscape architects Munder and Ezepky it is of utmost importance to involve the students in the planning process. To do so, the landscape architects put great emphasis on the imaginary world and language used by the children thus combining the respective results with their own and family experiences. Between 2014 and 2018, they redesigned many schools by using different methodological approaches. Generally it can be stated that the joint preparation with the management and teachers has proven to be very effective.  Above all at primary schools (and in kindergartens) the support of class and group leaders as significant parental figures is very helpful and target-oriented.

Thus, the design of the schoolyard becomes a class project and a joint task for the students. For its implementation, the students are provided with simple site plans and a model kit of pictures. The preparation of this work is divided into two different levels, one for the first and second grade whereas the other one is directed to grades 3 and 4.

Hence, the students have expressed their aspirations by painting or sticking them onto the maps and have finally assessed them.

A joint workshop was the forum in which the priority list was published in the presence of the entire student body and teaching staff.

The general objective of this event was to determine the appropriate position of the play devices and the desired play areas of the schoolyard as well as the motto for the desired game landscape.

Conclusion: It was great fun to develop the complex list of wishes by involving the big group through several small steps of participation. By doing so, it has proven very effective to repeat the selection processes at several levels (individual classes, entire school).

 

Redesign / Project plan

The analysis of the room shows that the new two-storied classroom building requires more space due to the floor space/base area and the numbers of floors compared to its pavilion-like predecessor which due to its location hardly left any space for the schoolyard in the eastern part. Because of the orthogonal situation of the new building, the yards are divided into two open spaces which are both of usable dimension.

In addition, there is a spatial threshold at the level of the entrance of the old building shared between the old building, the canteen and the new building.

Its position is very attractive as it occupies a perceptible proper room from which both the street and courtyard side are visible.

The adjacent large yard is situated at the sun side and easily accessible, or to be more precise, it can be easily stormed by pupils of this age group from the classrooms of the new building through ground-level doors. The smaller yard, too, is situated at the sun side while, at the same time, it offers sufficient shade from the trees which are distributed everywhere, because there are days when the temperatures are getting high even in the North.

In the North a series of sycamore trees separates the schoolyard from the sports field. The entrance area in the south is dominated by the two huge English oaks as a result of which the functional area with its endless rows of bicycle racks, storage for dustbins and other cleaning and maintenance materials appears rather inconspicious.

In addition, the school clearly benefits from the two oaks (as well as from the trees north of the old building) which balance out the new building insofar as it gives the impression it had always been there.

 

The students' and teachers' wishes

The evaluation of the questioning of students showed that all of them would like to have jump-over mushrooms, slides, horizontal bars and climbing scaffolds.

In addition, the students of all grades clearly positioned themselves for device combinations which allow both sliding and climbing, such as a big timber ship, a cable railway, horizontal bars and a football field. According to the results of grades 3 and 4, they only asked for additional seating options and a barefoot path.

In addition, the students asked for play devices which were not shown on the posters, such as a tubular slide, jump-over mushrooms, hand-over-hand ropes, wooden horses and a sandbox.

The teaching staff talked about their positive experiences with wooden chips on the current yard and asked to use them as fall protection material to be put under the play devices instead of sand as usual.

 

Principles regarding the design of the schoolyard

The sequence layout of the rooms and play offerings should take into account both aspects, that is to say places to stay and spaces for playing. They should be based on the difference between playing by using the devices, free game, competitive games, playing together, being alone or as part of a group.

All these ideas also take into account the differences in the ways girls or boys behave.

However, the room for frolicking around is the most important one. Depending on the size of the play areas, it makes sense to reduce the planting areas, as the need for protecting the plants is often out of proportion compared with the need for movement and playing.

The idea of creating a school garden is often brought forward with much enthusiasm. However, the teaching staff of the primary school Am Reesenbüttel has realistically assessed the possibilities of usage and as a result the large bed next to the main entrance was limited to 8 sqm and considered sufficient for the students to plant herbs for the canteen. In case the garden topic turns out to be workable, the idea is to expand the areas east of the new building.

The aspects of security for children and suitability of maintenance of the facilities and materials, however, will have to be checked at regular intervals.

 

Working with the inventory and restrictions

Another, very exciting question in view of the creative participation regarding fun and games is the inventory of what already exists. What is the existing vegetation and how could it be integrated, what is the condition of the ground (tubes, wires, asphalt, foundation)? Against the background of frequently missing plans of the overall planning, this aspect could turn into a lottery regarding the construction process and costs.

However, this part has been well prepared by the contracting authority who has provided enough information.

The functional requirements could be implemented in secondary areas due to the building arrangement. The long series of bicycle stands are important but not the main thing.

 

Thematic focus:  adventurous schoolyard

What a topic! The students insisted that this should be thematic focus. Thus, the landscape architects Munder and Erzepky had to look into this subject when planning the design. The assessment process was very strict, but their concept was also highly praised as they were willing to test out the limits of the safety regulations.

The basic idea is fairly easy to recognise: a pavement band winds its way around the new building and the canteen. Here, the red thread is yellow. The plan is to use it as a vehicle path during the "active break".  Therefore, the paved hills are at some points rather flat. Where would otherwise be the adventure?

 

Game context and play devices

The three play areas take up almost all requested play facilities the participants have put onto the wish list. In this context, we have installed fall protection areas without dangerous edges and at a lower level compared to the original level of the pavement.

At the big yard there are two large play areas. In the southern part there is an extensive combination of playing devices in the midst of the sycamore grove under the sun. Everything winds its way through the several floors, whether that be slides, steal poles, timber devices, webs or three-dimensional games.

The pentagonal play areas underneath the crowns of the sycamore trees are placed at different heights that is to say from sitting height up to one metre eighty. They are all part of the overall play area whereas the seating area underneath the sycamore trees forms a separate area.

Towards the north the game group area merges with a place which consists of individual play devices surrounded by plant areas which could, for instance, serve as a meeting point for groups.

The former little football pitch will be re-established on a sandy ground at the free space next to the sports field by taking into account the fire brigade access road.

Alongside the north gable the "yellow focus" can be found in the eastern part of the small yard. In addition to the play area which consists of play devices and a bouldering wall, there is also a seating area which offers quietness in order to concentrate on the climbing activity or to study outside.

Contrary to the first design draft, the landscape architects Munder and Erzepky have done without the yellow pavement band on the rear of the new building which - according to the teaching staff - could cause difficulties during the break supervisions.

 

Plants - design and special characteristics

Around a specific part of the lawn area under the huge oak, colourful shrubs will be planted. The idea is to use sturdy flowering shrubs in the colours red, orange and yellow. The required maintenance measures of the green area during the first years have already been agreed with the school and the municipal construction facility.

Photo: Landscape Architects Munder and Erzepky

 

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