The very nature of Sheffield as a city of hills and valleys means many schools in Sheffield enjoy great long views. Ballifield is no exception. The exterior space around the classrooms has the potential to provide different experiences on different levels. We reflected this in the design of the external spaces. Working with a landscape architect,5 we tried to reflect the inside spaces outside and to wrap different types of the planting around places that the whole class or smaller groups might congregate. The outside classroom became as important as the inside. It seemed to be the key for exploration – more liberating and free than the inside in good weather. There is a pond, a wetland area, fruit and nut trees, paths, steps, slippery grass slopes, rope balustrades and hedges. One enormous (or it will be in 15 years) hedge in the shape of a whale will swim alongside the building. A long-term plan such as this is totally dependent on the will of the school and the head teacher. Of course maintenance is a huge issue. There are two planted walls, with an evergreen honeysuckle that will need to be maintained. Hopefully it will be so much part of the building it will be maintained as a matter of course; particularly the hedge that forms around the main entrance, which will give the whole school its ‘image’.
It was less easy to pin down teachers on how the new pond (larger and more accessible than the previous one) will be used. They need time to develop lessons around it. This goes for the whole outside environment. It is so much more ambitious and varied than before that it needs time to develop ways of using it as the planting grows and matures. It is hoped that parents and the community will use the building and the outside landscapes, and indeed help to develop the different zones of planting. The classrooms can dislocate themselves functionally from the rest of the school, like a pavilion surrounded by gardens.
The relationship between the outside and the inside of the classrooms and how that related to the curriculum became a key theme at Ballifield. It was expressed as a fluid teaching relationship between the outside classroom and the inside classroom. For example, the box bay with windows opening fully inwards flat against the reveal, allows the children to sit half inside and half outside. Many of the children commented that they felt like they were hiding when they were right inside the bays
Box bay open makes a connection between the inside and outside spaces.
with the table flapped down. Two sets of double doors open on to the external classroom, one is a balcony to look down on to the pond and another opens straight on to a terrace. Outside the classroom, entrance area is designed to feel like it is almost outside, with a polished concrete floor and ramp, roof lights and a totally glazed end. It is as if the classrooms are totally surrounded by the outside environment.