Visitors can easily forget that they are actually in Berlin when they approach the extensive school grounds in the north of Mahlsdorf, surrounded as they are by this bucolic-seeming green district of the city with its small houses. In fact, Mahlsdorf is just a ...
Going with the flow
By Andree Bockholt (wbp Landschaftsarchitekten GmbH)
Among the core urban improvement projects undertaken in the Hörde district of Dortmund was the renovation of the premises of the Phoenix-Gymnasium school. Before the work was completed, this area contrasted greatly with the attractive, new development of the landscape park along the River Emscher - created as part of the renaturation project here - and the nearby residential district around the Phoenixsee lake. The outdoor premises of the school now blend perfectly with the Emscher park and the Phoenix district to form an inviting whole at the entrance to Hörde.
Previously, the bleak asphalt and concrete surfaces of the playgrounds and sports fields on both sides of the school building had formed self-contained spaces optically separated by thick bush and tree growths that had obscured the views of the new landscape park nearby. However, as the school was required to relinquish part of its land to the Emscher renaturation project, the opportunity was provided to redesign its external grounds.
The Dortmund authorities issued an invitation to tender for the project that required participating landscape architects to submit plans that not only provided for accommodation of the school activities but also set out a suitable overall design concept. The concept for the entrance ways, in particular, was to characterise the new residential quality of life now offered by this district. The tender was awarded to wbp Landschaftsarchitekten GmbH based in Bochum, whose plans - with the exception of the third construction phase - have since been realised.
Strips are the backbone of the successful concept
The Bochum-based planners divided the school premises into three strips that as they become more distanced from the linear school building conform increasingly to the more rounded outlines of the restored landscape park and its path network. With the limitations imposed by the budget, it preserves the more worthwhile existing features.
The southern strip with its topography includes the attractive, dense tree population and with its more pronounced margin creates, with minimum effort, a clear demarcation to the neighbouring residential development. The playgrounds located between this strip and the school building are fenced and are now used exclusively by the school as internal garden-like recreational elements. These paved areas now have a much more defined form.
The central developed strip still provides the main access route to the school and, once the third construction phase has been completed, will continue as far as the Faßstrasse road to the east. Large sections of the original tree population have been integrated in gaps left in the paving, further accentuating the linear character of this strip. They do not in any way impede appropriate use of the play areas or access to the neighbouring open courtyard to the north. Parking spaces for cars in front of the new gymnasium are bordered by hedging along the longitudinal sides, highlighting the open nature of this strip. Once the third construction phase is finished, there will be a visual axis providing views of the nearby Phoenix site with its former warehouse.
The northern strip essentially follows the sinuous line of the banks of the restored Emscher and incorporates the so-called 'blue classroom' created in cooperation with the local Emscher association that offers an exciting venue that can be used for lessons and recreation. In addition, the northern strip, with its access to the entrance to Hörde, combines the outdoor spaces of the Phoenix-Gymnasium school with the pathway network of the Emscher landscape park.
Dedicated zones provide focal points in the school grounds
Zones dedicated to particular uses now link the central strip with the northern strip along the river and produce contrasts within the school grounds. Provided with edging that can act as diversified seating and relaxation elements, they form sculptured sections that ascend slightly to the north.
The field to the west of the old gymnasium offers sufficient space for physical exercise and games. Unfortunately, safety requirements meant that the parkour course that had originally been the wish of the local group active in the sport had to be replaced by a boulder field. With its climbing scarps and ropes, this is actively employed during school hours and afterwards.
Together with the western field, the central field next to the new gymnasium provides a framework for the intermediate asphalt surfaced areas equipped with a basketball hoop, soccer goalposts and the appropriate pitch markings. The middle field has been conceived as a place to relax rather than be active, with lawns and grassed strips that give it a structure designed to accommodate the leisure and communication needs of the older school pupils.
Another field to the east of the new gymnasium will, on completion, define the access routes to the built-up area and the school premises. This field will be separated from the school grounds by a concrete verge bearing the name 'Phoenix', announcing not only the name of the school but also placing it in the context of the neighbouring residential area. This final section will be undertaken in the next couple of years as the local authority has since obtained ownership of the land while a sports facility aimed at the needs of young people will also be created here.
New rainwater management concept takes the strain off the existing waste water system
As the River Emscher is in the close vicinity, it was possible to disconnect large sections of sealed outdoor surface areas from the waste water system. Rainwater is now collected in broad, open gutters in the paved areas, from which it flows into the river. School lessons on the subject of rainwater and the natural water cycle can now be directly accompanied by practical demonstrations of what actually happens.
The redesign of the school grounds has provided the school, its neighbourhood and the residential development with a high quality, very versatile site that can be used for play, games and exercise and represents an attractive element of the reconstituted River Emscher valley area.