Outdoor Classroom

Outdoor Classroom design by me as a freelance project for Collective Works is located in Highgate Primary School playground. The head teacher wanted to bring learning outside and the school needed multi-use flexible space that could be used for formal learning as well as informal play and performances for the children.

Key inspiration for the designs came from my childhood and place where I grew up. My hometown was surrounded by mountains, that provided a vibrant and colourful backdrop to the city. Spending much of my leisure time in those mountains I recalled the ever changing colours and freedom that they offered. It was this landscape that I wanted to recreate with the outdoor classroom so that the children at Highgate Primary School could escape to an imaginary land. Being positioned directly outside of another classroom also meant that the colours from the mountainscape flowed through to the indoor classroom.

The design process involved an inclusive child-led ideas workshop that incorporated the school children’s thoughts on colour, shapes, landscape and why learning outside is different from learning inside (“we can shout and run!”). The intention with the space was to be open to interpretation by both children and adults. 

Due to lack of funding at the time the design had to be put on ice.  The socially aware practice drew on their experience of crowdfunding and partnered with local organisation, OmVed Gardens, who sponsored a fundraising supper and auction at their stunning glasshouse in Highgate.  Omved Garden’s Executive Chef and UN Advocate Chef, Arthur Potts Dawson, prepared a delicious five course meal and the evening raised nearly £3000.  With this much needed injection of funds, building commenced in the summer of 2018

The outdoor classroom is now completely finished and had carried through elements from the workshop and the design inspiration of natural landscapes. The 65 sqm space, which is formed of a larch platform and colourful backdrop, is being used by small groups of children for activities such as reading, arts and crafts, or listen to storytelling. One of the children’s favourites features are the secret spaces that are too small for adults to fit which are created by the removal of several foam stools. When the stools are in use for learning sessions, the space in which they are normally stored becomes a perfect little child sized hiding place. The stools can also be stacked or used as building blocks, arranged at different heights to allow for a climbing route up and over with different views of the rest of the playground. 

Picture by Thomas Broadhead

Video by María Catalina Venegas 

Text by Rachel Booth

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