The Katharinen school in Hamburg's HafenCity has a school playground on its roof
The “Spielraumgesetz” (Play Space Act) as a basis for innovative school playgrounds
By DI Bettina Epple, Leanne Maree, Bakk.techn
The market town of Lustenau in Vorarlberg, the westernmost federal province in Austria, has been participating in the “Landesspielraumgesetz” (Regional Play Space Act) programme since 2012. This act encourages municipalities in Vorarlberg to develop a “Spielleitplanung” for the entire municipal area. (The concept of “Spielleitplanung” refers to the implementation of child rights at the local level of all government programmes by paying special attention to consulting children and young people and recognizing them as “experts in their own cause” when it comes to having their rights reflected in municipal decisions that affect them.) Backed by substantial project and budget support from the federal province, it is thus possible to sustainably expand and secure public play spaces and open spaces. Children’s and young people’s demands are always given priority, as participation is made obligatory. In 2017, the market town of Lustenau succeeded in applying this special concept not only to public playgrounds, but also in the context of the extension of the Rheindorf Primary School. This planning and implementation project not only took architecture into account, but also in particular incorporated landscape architecture and traffic planning. The result was a modern school building, a new and high-quality school playground designed for public use, and the first shared space in the market town of Lustenau. Current and very sound planning principles as well as an integrative planning process led to this appealing space for children and young people.
The municipality and its planning concepts
The market town of Lustenau is located in the very west of the federal province of Vorarlberg, in the middle of the prosperous plain of the Rhine Valley on Lake Constance, in the border triangle of Austria – Germany – Switzerland. With just under 24,000 inhabitants, it is characterized by a steady influx of people and would be considered a medium-sized town by Austrian standards. Nevertheless, the town has retained its character of a “large green village”, also due to its history. With the Alpine Rhine geographically and naturally located directly on the Swiss border, Lustenau is exposed to above-average daily heavy goods traffic due to customs clearance for HGVs as well as motorised private transport. This is one of the reasons why the main planning principles and concepts of the market town of Lustenau take the traffic situation into account. This is also the case with the municipal play space concept, which was adopted by the municipal council in 2012 as a result of a year-long integrative and interdisciplinary planning process. In the case of the market town of Lustenau, a general result of the play space concept was that the design of the street space plays a significant role in whether public play spaces can be reached by soft mobility at all. This was worked out through neighbourhood walks with children and participatory workshops. The result is a qualitative assessment of the open space system in the market town of Lustenau, including a resulting catalogue of measures, which in particular also includes the street open space as an integral part.
The street open space is an integral part of it
The need to extend the Rheindorf Primary School in the district of the same name in the market town of Lustenau also presented a great opportunity for the entire neighbourhood in 2016. As the municipality owns several plots of land surrounding the school building, it was also recognised by the municipal development department that the resource of “open space” should be particularly emphasized as a connecting and pioneering element. The venerable “Gründerzeit”-style school building is located on the municipal traffic artery “Maria-Theresien-Straße”, making it an important centrepiece of the town and shaping the townscape there. The basis for the comprehensive redesign of the area was therefore, in addition to the play space concept, also the existing Rheindorf district development concept, as well as a quantitative traffic survey of the entire municipal area, which was very current at the time. All these planning principles and concepts had been prepared in a forward-looking and timely manner at that time. The interdisciplinary understanding of spatial relationships was to result in a newly designed urban complex around the Rheindorf Primary School. The construction site covered a total of almost 65,000 ft2 and included the adaptation and extension of the school building, a shared space on Maria-Theresien-Straße and the school playground, which was designated as a public playground. The ground-breaking ceremony took place in July 2016, and the site was opened at the end of November 2017. In order to emphasize the diligence and importance of planning the outdoor space, a design competition with invited landscape architects was launched for the preliminary design of the site. After the contract had been awarded, a participatory process was implemented with the pupils of the primary school. The results of the participation were directly incorporated into the open space design.
Innovative learning spaces, surrounded by a spacious school playground
The diverse new requirements for learning and the topic of inclusion played a role in the design of the school building by the architectural firm dworzak/grabher. More space for individual learning, for creativity, for retreat and encounter was implemented. This was also to be reflected in the outdoor space. The pupils were involved in the planning of the school playground within the framework of a painting workshop and a survey, supported by an external play space and participation expert. This not only strengthened the school community, but also helped to open up the outdoor space for recreational use. The landscape architectural concept developed by landscape architect Barbara Bacher provided for a large open space. With its minimalist and functional design, this took into account the different demands made on the school playground by the users. For example, an inviting terrace with hammock niches was created for after-school care, leading into a large meadow for free, unstructured active play. High-quality craftsmanship “children’s houses” line this area, as well as a large in-ground trampoline, a bouldering wall and a climbing course made of robinia trunks. Attractive seating and the existing trees add atmosphere and flair to the areas paved with gravel and asphalt. Another important goal for the landscape architect was to remove the previously existing car parking spaces from the schoolyard and make it completely car-free.
Meeting on an equal footing
The redesign of the Rheindorf Primary School was very special because it was the first time that a shared space was implemented in Lustenau, on Maria-Theresien-Straße. To this end, the Besch und Partner traffic planning office adopted the design of the schoolyard by extending the beige-coloured asphalt pavement from the entrance area of the school to the roadway at the same level. The aim of this traffic calming method is to reduce the speed limit, while at the same time all road users have to show equal consideration for each other. It should give the impression of the driver driving directly across the school forecourt. This concept is supported by coordinated furnishing and lighting of the street space as well as by narrowing the roadway on one side at the beginning and end of the shared space. A tactile guidance system for blind and visually impaired people was integrated to ensure accessibility. Another striking feature is the high red stele marking the entrance and exit areas of the shared space. The fact that the then current traffic count indicated an average daily traffic of more than 10,000 vehicles per day was a critical issue in the traffic planning from the outset. The implementation of a shared space with a speed limit of 12 mph was therefore also viewed critically by traffic planners, as the expediency of a shared space is considered to be limited above an average daily traffic volume of 10,000 according to the current state of research. Nevertheless, despite public criticism, the project was implemented consistently and successfully in favour of road safety for children and young people. The shared space on Maria-Theresien-Straße combines urban amenity value with rural living spaces. The traffic-calmed area improves safety for the pupils and connects the directly adjacent subspaces for pedestrians and cyclists in a pleasant, spacious way. This innovation in the public street space of the market town of Lustenau was also supported by active, informative public relations work and accompanying, soft measures, such as the “Schoolwalker” campaign. At the initiative of the municipality, a low-threshold bonus system encourages schoolchildren and their parents to walk or cycle to school during the school year. An external evaluation by the “walk.space” association as part of the municipality-wide “pedestrian check” in 2019 also shows that the Rheindorf shared space perfectly fulfils its purpose, namely the inclusion of all road users.
A model is catching on
In the meantime, similar measures to design the surroundings have also been taken and successfully implemented in the market town of Lustenau in the area of the Kirchdorf Primary School, in the area of the “Im Schützengarten” retirement home and in the area of the “Am Engelbach” kindergarten, which was built in 2019. The (play) open space always plays a central role, focusing on contemporary design and a high play value. At the same time, further traffic calming measures were also implemented to sustainably promote soft mobility. For the implementation of the shared spaces, the corporate design in the Rheindorf district was always used. From the point of view of the market town of Lustenau, the Play Space Act of the Province of Vorarlberg can be considered an efficient and effective push factor for community development, in that attractive “Spielleitplanung” helps to enhance the quality and attractiveness of public spaces. Obligatory participation guarantees that the demands of children and young people are actually taken into account, with all generations benefiting from the high amenity value.
DI Bettina Epple, born in 1983, 2008 graduate of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Department of Landscape Planning and Landscape Management. From 2009 to 2011 university assistant at the Institute of Landscape Planning at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, since 2011 working for the market town of Lustenau, Department of Municipal Planning. Responsible for the conception as well as the implementation of the design and construction of communal outdoor facilities, playgrounds and open spaces in the municipality.
Leanne Maree, Bakk.techn., born in 1987, 2012 graduate of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Department of Landscape Planning and Landscape Architecture. Since 2016 working for the market town of Lustenau, Department of Municipal Planning. Responsible for the constructional implementation and maintenance management of the communal green spaces and outdoor spaces in the municipality.