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18.02.2022 - Ausgabe: 1/2022

From “Schwarzer Platz” (Black Square) to “Bunter Hof” (Colourful Courtyard)

By Martin Schaper (Götte Landschaftsarchitekten GmbH)

© Götte Landschaftsarchitekten GmbH


Infill development in inner-city areas often involves the sealing of extensively used or still existing wasteland or open spaces. As this entails a loss of space that can no longer be used creatively, the possibility of appropriating open spaces should always be taken into account when planning new facilities for children and young people.  

Population growth in conurbations and the associated infill development in established settlement areas also put officials under enormous pressure to deliver solutions, especially with regard to educational facilities and new buildings. It is nothing new that in the course of this development, there are always bottlenecks in the supply of green spaces, that demands tend to be met later and that usable open spaces are rather scarce. 


General conditions and requirements  

In the case of the urgently needed new primary school in Berkersheim, a site suitable for the project was available after the closure of the Edwards Barracks and the withdrawal of the U.S. troops. 

The site is located on the northern outskirts of Frankfurt between Frankfurter Berg and Berkersheim, which to some extent has retained its idyllic village atmosphere. It is a former parade ground, popularly known as "Schwarzer Platz" (Black Square). The planning objective was to build a multi-purpose school playground with play and sports facilities that encourages physical activity and that is designed for inclusive use of all areas.

Based on the urban positioning and the ground plan of the building as a three-form entry primary school, three different areas were created, each of which has different open space functions but is designed in an overall context: 

  • The school playground as a play and exercise area to be used during breaks and for PE lessons

  • The garden courtyard with the outdoor terrace leading to the cafeteria as well as the school garden and green classroom

  • The service yard with parking spaces, kitchen facilities, supply and disposal facilities 


Design concept  

The open spaces, strongly characterized by the building façades with glazed wood cladding, are accentuated by trees and shrubs, surface textures and colours, as well as by furnishing elements. In the front areas of the site, particular consideration was given to preserving mature trees. The tree canopies were deliberately spared when planning the play areas. The trees (poplar, birch, and chestnut) are cleverly incorporated into the overall concept, significantly improving the microclimatic conditions in the play areas. The extensive roof planting also plays its part in achieving this.

Although the site as a whole has a considerable slope of more than 3 metres, barrier-free access to the building and playability of the school playground are guaranteed. The school playground features a 50-metre running track, a long jump pit and an all-weather ball field. Thanks to appropriate markings on the playing field, it can also be used as a practice area for bicycle safety training courses. Contrasting anthracite-coloured strips are integrated into the largely uniform light-coloured paving of the schoolyard, which are intended to make it easier for visually impaired people in particular to find their way to the main entrance. In addition, striped inlays in black and white have been integrated, which encourage the children to play, hop and jump around. The design aims, among other things, to promote inclusive play and social interaction and to give children the freedom to develop their own ideas. 

The coordinated use of texture, materials and colours in interaction with the building’s interior and exterior is an essential design feature. The building and outdoor facilities form a coherent whole. Nevertheless, the harmonious and smooth design and the use of natural materials and vegetative elements, such as the flowering perennial border in front of the sports hall, contrast with the austere architecture of the building. 

When using coloured elements, special emphasis was placed on light and warm colours, such as earthy tones for the play areas in combination with neutral colours, such as grey, white and anthracite for the paved areas. 

Numerous seating elements in the form of concrete blocks of different sizes and colours have been integrated into the school playground. The blocks also help to bridge differences in elevation, thus enabling barrier-free access and use of the areas. 


The school playground 

The school playground was designed to cater for a variety of purposes and uses given the overall limited space available. It includes both open and paved areas that are suitable for exercising and romping around, sports areas that can be used for PE lessons and during breaks, as well as play areas with playground equipment that also provide quiet and shaded places to stay. The teachers on playground duty have an unobstructed view of all the areas. 

The entrance area, across the school playground, is the school's hallmark and looks correspondingly imposing and inviting.


Play and recreational areas

The play facilities are designed to withstand heavy and intensive use during breaks. The large play structure in particular allows many children to play at the same time. Situated in partly shaded areas, it is a pleasant place to spend time, even during hot spells in midsummer. 

The play facilities cater for the children's basic needs for physical activity and offer opportunities to climb, swing and romp around. There are also shared-use facilities for children with limited mobility. For example, the access ramp to the large play structure also gives wheelchair users the opportunity to join in the fun without outside assistance. The connections to the play areas and the playground equipment are designed as to not bar any pupils from being able to play. 


Outdoor sports areas 

There is a single-court sports hall that can be used for school sports. The outdoor facilities are complemented by a mini-pitch (kick-about area) and a 50-metre running track with a long jump facility. The sand pit of the long jump facility is directly adjacent to the play area and is also used by younger pupils as a sand play area.  


The garden courtyard  

The area includes facilities to be used as a school garden and work yard as well as elliptical sitting steps that can be used in conjunction with a platform for outdoor classes or other open-air events.  

The school garden is used for teaching events and workshops. Here, too, the guiding principle of inclusion is applied; wheelchair users can also use a raised planting bed that can be accessed from underneath to do some gardening. 

Irrespective of its use as a school garden, the area can also be used for outdoor woodwork/metalwork classes or for combined subject teaching, among other things. 


The service yard  

The kitchen and employee entrances can be accessed via the service yard, separate from the main entrance. The parking spaces as well as the supply and disposal facilities are located there. Elements similar to those in the façade are used to separate the waste disposal area, thereby preventing people from seeing the waste containers located there. The parking spaces were extensively landscaped and covered with trees. 



The sealing of the school playground, which was necessitated by its use, causes the surface to heat up during hot spells. This effect can be mitigated by extensive greening and landscaping and shading of partial areas. The high volume of surface water runoff generated by heavy rainfall is retained by roof plating and underground storage channels and slowly released into the drainage system. 

The paved areas were mainly designed in a light shade of grey, which is less likely to heat up. The newly planted trees and shrubs only start to provide shade and cooling after several years of growth. Against this background, great importance was attached to the protection and preservation of existing area vegetation for microclimatic reasons and for the well-being of the users.  


Establishment of vegetation 

By comprehensively taking into account the existing trees (especially poplar, birch and chestnut) in combination with the establishment of new vegetation areas, it is possible to provide extensive green spaces right from the start. The 15 new trees planted on the site, including particularly resilient urban species such as Acer campestre, Ostrya carpinifolia, Quercus cerris, and Sorbus thuringiaca, will have additional positive effects in the medium term. 

In order to also visually represent the different seasons, the plants were selected specifically according to different flower and foliage colours. North-facing sides that receive less sunlight were also taken into account, by planting beds with shade perennials such as Anemone hupehensis, hemerocallis and hosta in combination with grasses and extensive ground covers such as waldsteinia, asters and heuchera.  



In view of the clearly limited space available, it was nevertheless possible to turn the outdoor area of the new primary school into an attractive and exciting space by means of an efficient and multifunctional open space design. Special conditions, such as the undulating topography and the existing mature trees, were incorporated and put to good use in the design. In addition, both ecological and educational requirements were given special consideration. All in all, it was possible to create a modern open space that promotes play and physical activity as well as creativity and social interaction and that allows children to relax and balance their mind, body and soul, which is essential for their development. 



Key data

Area: 4,950 m²

Construction costs: € 1,010,000

Planning and construction period: 2014 to 11/2019

Planning: work stages 1-8 

Götte Landschaftsarchitekten GmbH

Client, project management: Municipal council of the City of Frankfurt 

Facilities: Play and recreational areas, 50-metre running track, long jump pit, ball field, area for road safety education, school garden, outdoor classroom, car and bicycle parking, inclusive play equipment  

Large multi-play structure: SiK-Holzgestaltungs GmbH

Contractor: WISAG GmbH & Co.KG, Frankfurt am Main

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