Site design and play

Children’s participation in the design process is a valuable way to teach them about the multitude of problems and opportunities that must be addressed in the creation of school environments.

Подпись: Figure 11.22 Third prize perspective by Kamni Gill. (Photo: Lisa McNiven.)
As ‘players’ in the design process, children will be able to more readily connect their own actions and decisions with environmental change, a key to sustainability. Honourable mention Robert Dorgan of the United States, uses a landscape spatial typology, represented in Frobelian-like blocks, to involve children and neighbours in the process of designing their own environment. Vacant lots, crossroads, marshes, forests, allees and cloisters, for example, are represented by different block assemblages. Each block piece measures a quarter – acre because it was hypothesized by Dorgan that this size parcel, equivalent to a small residential lot, would be most familiar and comprehensible to children: ‘The block helps introduce these “types” to a wider audience, and encourages a playful, yet studied, recombination and rearrangement of

blocks to create landscape conditions at scales far greater than the individual block.’ Children and the community can actively create their landscape by assembling these modules in different combinations.

Chris Reed of Stosis in Cambridge, Massachusetts, proposes a series of site modifications, such as clearing, staking, forming, and filling, that help establish the schoolyard/park at the wet site. These modifications are done gradually as the community moves into East Clayton, and they influence natural systems in the schoolyard to create a chronology of changing site conditions. Reed first proposes ‘clearing’ pathways into the site. These pathways cut through the woods and meadow to encourage people to use the site. He then proposes ‘staking’, where
seven-metre-high poles are placed at locations of the site that are most suitable for building in an ecologically sound way. These stakes are markers indicating potential building sites and are to be used as part of community discussions. Reed proposes ‘forming’ where walls are built across current drainage swales to divert run-off to a part of the site where over time a wetland will emerge due to successive flooding during the rainy months. Next is ‘filling’ where a large earthen platform is established on the site for outdoor social interactions among the growing East Clayton community. Lastly, he proposes that the existing two houses on the site are used as temporary meeting places where the school building is designed by the community.

Honourable mention Franc Jarosz of France divides the dry site into two spaces divided by the school building. To the east of the school Jarosz proposes programmes and structures invented and organized by the adult world: sports fields, outdoor classrooms, and community gardens. To the west of the school where the doors of the classroom open onto gardens and a wooded area, the children run things. This more private side of the site is the world created for and by children. It contains wild spaces where children can create their own worlds out of vegetative parts, mud, concrete tunnels, and building supplies, infusing the landscape with wonder and improbability. By delineating a children’s zone within the schoolyard context, Jarosz hopes to nourish a sense of responsibility as well as creative ability.

Ulate of Costa Rica, proposes a schoolyard/park of moveable objects as a way to rotate uses throughout the yard, so as not to degrade the ecological conditions of the site’s natural systems. Standard landscape’s elements, such as fences and walkways, that are stationary items in most parks and schoolyards are moveable in Ulate’s plans. For example, the fencing system can be moved to a number of different locations in order to allow the rejuvenation of trampled vegetated areas. These fences can also be used for social purposes by creating sub-spaces within the yard for younger children. Walkways are also movable so that they lead children and residents of East Clayton to different parts of the site during the changing seasons. Ulate also proposes that these movable pathways can end abruptly and start somewhere else in the schoolyard so that the children are left to their own volition to find the connections. Ideally, children will begin to move the pathways to places where they would like to lead others.

James Tichenor, Sean Salmon and Devyn Osborne of the United States use Geographical Positioning Systems (GPS) to create a schoolyard/park at the wet site that expresses the environmental conditions that are occurring in other schoolyards throughout the world. They selected elementary schools in Africa, China, England, France, California and Greece that would be connected via telecommunication and GPS systems. These schools would have similar features in their outdoor play environments. These features, such as pond areas, rubber-filled bladders for jumping, and large sand play areas would register specific conditions of a schoolyard in another country so as to heighten the children’s awareness of the interconnectedness of the world. For example, in East Clayton the water pipes that fill the pond are regulated by incoming data from the school in England; hence, rain levels in London would determine the water depth in the East Clayton pond. By using the site as a display of changing data, the schoolyard will not only reflect changing natural conditions, but the conditions elsewhere in the world.

In November 2001, an exhibit of approximately 50 submitted designs were put on display at Robson Square in Vancouver, Canada. Nicholas Gilsoul was present at the opening to give a lecture on the ideas that generated his 13-acres submission. A panel discussion followed Gilsoul’s lecture and included Nicholas Gilsoul, Patrick Condon of the University of British Columbia James Taylor Chair, and three jury members – Lorna Fraser of the Surrey Parent Organization, Umer Olcay of the Surrey School Board Facilities Manager, and Landscape Architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander. The goal of the panel discussion was to begin the critical discussion of the design of the actual schoolyard in East Clayton. In April 2002
another exhibit of entries and a panel discussion were held at City Hall in Surrey.

13-acres helped identify important programming needs that are cogent to many communities concerned with the sustainable role of schoolyards, particularly where these communities face depleting open spaces, endangered aquatic environments, and threatened habitat areas. Because the competition resulted in so many design responses, a rich selection of creative design solutions and issues has been brought to the professional and public eye. We anticipate that the competition will provide benefits in several different ways and at different levels of local, provincial, national, and international action. Most immediately, the design proposals of the
competition have provided numerous examples of sustainable design solutions. These solutions will help the new East Clayton community to work with the city of Surrey to physically build a schoolyard as part of the sustainable demonstration site. A long-term initiative is to secure funding for the longitudinal monitoring and quantitative evaluation of the benefits of a sustainable schoolyard design, monitoring how well it functions socially and physically as a learning and community resource. Longitudinal outcomes can potentially cause shifts in the way individuals and groups envision the physical environment of the schoolyard and potentially inform incentives and guidance for emerging standards regarding sustainable development and relevant policies concerning the educational curriculum.

Подпись: Figure 11.23 Robson Square exhibit. (Photo: Susan Herrington.)


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2 Thayer, R. L. (1994). Grey World Green Heart: Technology, Nature, Sustainable Landscape. John Wiley.

3 Bowers, C. A. (1995). Educating for an Ecologically Sustainable Culture: Rethinking Moral Education, Creativity, Intelligence, and Other Modern Orthodoxies. State University of New York.

4 Rivkin, M. S. (1995). The Great Outdoors: Restoring Children’s Rights to Play Outside. National Association for the Education of Young Children.

5 Ibid, p. 40.

6 Cunningham, C. J. and Jones, M. (1999). The Playground: A Confession or Failure. Built Environment, 25 (1), 11-17.

7 Herrington, S. (1997). The Infant Garden: The Subculture of Infants and the Received View of Play. Landscape Journal, 16, 2.

8 Herrington, S. (1999). Playgrounds as Community Landscapes. Built Environment: Playgrounds in the Built Environment, 25 (1), 25-34.

9 Francis (1984/5), Olds (1989), Rivkin (1995), Neperud (1995), Birt, et al. (1997), Herrington (1999), Irwin Kindler (1999) – see Bibliography for details.

10 Steiner, F. and Thompson, G. F. (eds). (1996). Ecological Planning and Design. John Wiley. And Coffey, A. (1996). Transforming School Grounds. Green Teacher, 47, April-May, 7-10.

11 Spreiregen, P. D. (1979). Design Competition. McGraw Hill.

12 Condon, P. (1996). Sustainable Urban

Landscapes: The Surrey Design Charrette.

University of British Columbia, The James Taylor Chair in Landscape & Livable Environments.

13 Herrington, S. (2002). Schoolyard Park. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Center for Landscape Research.

14 Coffey, 1994 p. 11, Orr 1994 p. 142.

15 Cunningham and Jones 1999, Herrington 1997, Maxley (1999) – see Bibliography.

16 Hoody and Lieberman, (1998), p. 22 – see Bibliography.

17 Hoody and Lieberman (1998), p. i.

18 Alexander, J., North, M. W. and Hendron, D. K.

(1995). Master Gardener Classroom Garden Project: An Evaluation of the Benefits to Children. Children’s Environments, 12 (2),



Birt, D., King, D. H. and Sheridan, M. (1997). Earthly Matters: Learning Occurs When You Hear the Grass Sing. The Journal of the National Art Education Association, 50 (6), 7-13.

Francis, M. (1989). Children’s Use of Open Space in Village Homes. Children’s Environment

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Herrington, S. (2000). Garden Pedagogy: Romanticism to Reform. Landscape Journal: Design, Planning, and Management of the Land. 19 (1), 30-47.

Kindler, A. M. and Irwin, R. (1999). Art Education Outside School Boundaries: Identifying

Resources, exploring possibilities. R. Irwin and A. M. Kindler (eds) Beyond the School: Community and institutional partnerships in art education. National Art Education Association. Kuwabara, B. (1998). Interview. Competitions Magazine, 8 (4), 34-46.

Hoody, L. L. and Liberman, G. A. (1998). Closing the Achievement Gap: Using the Environment as an Integrating Context for Learning.

Maxley, I. (1999). Playgrounds: from Oppressive Spaces to Sustainable Places? Built Environment, 25 (1), 18-24.

Neperud, R. (1995). Texture of Community: An Environmental Design Education. In Context, content, and community in art education, beyond Postmodernism (R. Neperud, ed.). Teachers College Press.

Olds, A. R. (1989). Nature as Healer. Children’s Environment Quarterly, 6.

Orr, D. (1992). Ecological Literacy: Education and the Transition to a Postmodern World. State University of New York.

Susan Herrington is a landscape architect who is currently Associate Professor in the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at The University of British Columbia. She has contributed papers to numerous conferences and academic journals around the theme of children’s play and has published the proceedings of her sustainable design competition, Schoolyard Park: 13-acres Inter­national Design Competition. She continues to practice as a landscape architect and has won a number of awards for her built work.

Updated: October 13, 2015 — 7:06 pm