Transforming Urban Schoolyards

May 25th, 2012  |  Featured

Lea School parent and charrette participant Maurice Jones shares ideas for greening Lea's schoolyard .

A design charrette generated great ideas for greening schoolyards as designers, teachers, students, parents, and advocates for education, sustainability, and wellness collaborated to kick off Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up.

Four teams developed conceptual designs for Lea Elementary School in West Philadelphia and Kelly Elementary School in Germantown. Both the visionary and the quotidian were considered in the designs: How do we get kids to think globally about the environment? How can green schoolyards benefit the whole neighborhood? Isn’t there a better place to put the trash?

The charrette teams pinned up their work and presented at a public reveal immediately following the charrette on May 10, 2012.  Their design concepts will be assembled into print and digital documents for use by Lea, Kelly, and other green schoolyard advocates. In the meantime, here’s a sampling of sketches and scenes from the design charrette:

 

Lea Elementary School
Team 1: The Schoolyard as the New Front Door
More sketches and scenes from Lea Team 1.

At many Philly public elementary schools, the formal front entrance isn’t used much anymore. Instead, students gather and enter the school from the playground at the start of the day. Lea is no exception. Parents, students, and teachers mingle while students line up outside in the a.m., and the playground has become an important part of the social life of Lea beyond recess. This design team redesigned the playground with a wide entrance, more gathering spaces, and flags reflecting an international student body.

 

Lea Elementary School
Team 2: Trash Becomes a Teachable moment
View sketches from Lea Team 2.

Those big dumpsters stuck in every urban schoolyard seem diabolically placed to obstruct flow, play, and views. Dumpsters need to be accessible for pick-up, but almost every team found a less obtrusive option for placing them. This design team moved the dumpster from the central playground to a smaller play area, pairing it with a new composting and recycling center to make trash part of an environmental education curriculum.

 

Kelly Elementary School
Team 1: Wellness Trail
More sketches and scenes from Kelly Team 1.

Both Kelly teams responded to the community’s goal to “create a place within the neighborhood where wellness would be celebrated.” Both teams had to reconcile the strong geometries of the 70s-era school building (dubbed “the mother ship”) with the gentler lines of a natural landscape. Circulation became the organizing factor in both designs. The first team created a walking trail around the periphery of the school site that “gets people moving.” The trail links a series of natural habitat and garden areas.

 

Kelly Elementary School
Team 2: Wellness Loop
More sketches and scenes from Kelly Team 2.

“Good ideas are not necessarily original ideas,” said team member Jeff Goldstein, a principal of DIGSAU, noting the similarity between the proposals from the Kelly teams. This team created a loop within the playground that “invites students and neighborhoods to move through a diverse natural landscape.” Team member Vicki Mehl of Hansberry Children’s Garden Center, stressed the importance of “exposing kids to their connection with nature” and providing a landscape that tangibly answers the question: “where does my food come from?”

 

Many thanks to the remarkable people who collaborated at the charrette, came out to learn more at the public reveal, and offered their special knowledge to inform and lead this public forum on transforming urban schoolyards. Learn more about who participated. Get the neighborhood and volunteer perspective on the design charrette in  newsworks.org, flying kite, and OLIN.

Transforming Urban Schoolyards was organized by the Community Design Collaborative, AIA Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Water Department, and the US Environmental Protection Agency Region 3.

Special thanks to event sponsors Buell Kratzer Powell and W. S. Cumby.