The Outdoor Classroom project was collaboration between The Parent-Teacher Organization, The School’s principal and Teachers, Members of the Local Construction industry, and an interdisciplinary team of faculty and students from the School of Architecture. The P.T.O., a non-profit volunteer organization, worked for eight years to raise public awareness about the potential benefits of blending classroom curriculum and outdoor space. While the P.T.O. raised awareness and project funding the school’s principal led an energetic teaching faculty eager to pursue and implement progressive alternatives.
The completed project provides for a mix of outdoor activities in a centrally located, relatively urban, mixed-income neighborhood where 60% of the students qualify for the free lunch program. At the scale of an individual schoolyard the project explores the potential for augmenting aging school infrastructure with new, outdoor teaching and recreation spaces that expand learning options and promote physical activity. At the urban scale the project reexamines the relationship between public schools and city park facilities in an effort to reconnect communities to their local schools and expand public access to outdoor space. By pushing the envelope of adaptive reuse, the Outdoor Classroom project sought to create a high quality, small-scale landscape of architecture in the civic realm.
The work of Italian architect Carlo Scarpa, along with the spatial landscapes found in the villas of the Italian Renaissance, (d’Este, Lante, Gamberaia, etc.), provide historical precedents for the initiative. Serving to articulate the conceptual scope and underlying pedagogical agenda these precedents embody a continuity between and across discrete disciplinary boundaries commonly limited by the threshold between interior and exterior or distinctions between an organic, ‘natural’ palette and the realm of building construction materials. Procession, sequence, view, tactile sensation, formal strategies, and ordering systems constitute shared interdisciplinary content. Privileging the spatial over a specific material palette or the presence/lack of enclosure establishes a common ground of design occupied by both landscape architects and architects.
Occupying a leftover corner of the existing campus where the diagonal topography abruptly met the orthogonal building, the project creates a new transition between the school interior and the hilly playground. A new gateway opens onto Maple Street, creating an entrance to the playground and inviting after-hours and weekend use by the neighborhood. Wrapped by a ramp, four significant spaces organize and animate the project. Moving from North to South, the entry sequence from Maple Street passes alongside the story-telling court and covered pavilion before descending into the kickball court, which doubles as seating for the adjacent stage. Finally, the redwood “ribbon” terminates in a planter box and bench at the edge of the new basketball court. While each space has its formal, intended program, the overall project operates day-to-day as a large piece of outdoor furniture. Low walls and oversized steps provide informal seating for jumping, lounging, and/or quiet play.
Over the course of 11 months a group of 32 undergraduate Architecture students and One professor undertook all aspects related to the design, planning, funding, coordination, material specification, and construction of this Outdoor Classroom. Participating students were immersed in the complexities of a small, but Complex project. Working from the initial, conceptual stage through construction documents and finally to the full-scale construction Every aspect of the project was designed and actually built by the students. This includes all foundation work, Masonry, Steel Fabrication, framing, and Landscaping. Through the process of Working in the field, meeting with the city’s building and zoning officials, interacting with the trades, and learning to confront/overcome logistical hurdles in real time, students encountered both the agony and ecstasy of making architecture at full-scale. The experience exposed students to the act of construction as a fundamental component of critical design practice.
Twelve 4th year students began design work in August, moved through the construction documents phase in October, and broke ground in early November. The Fall Semester team completed the site preparation, prepared foundations and Placed the first of four concrete walls. Nine 5thyear students Worked through the spring Semester to complete the major, infrastructural elements such as the retaining walls, deck framing and pavilion structure. Students in the 6-week summer session Focused on the final design and fabrication work necessary to complete the project by the first of July.