Learning through Play
A first for Africa, the Breede Valley Primary School project was established to bring environmentally integrated learning facilities to an economically vulnerable farming community with high rates of community health challenges in the Cape Winelands district of South Africa.
Situated on the slopes of the magnificent Breede River Valley, the original school buildings were constructed from prefabricated materials and located in an exposed field – unable to adequately provide for the needs of the children and their local community. Square One Landscape Architects together with Meyer & Associates Architects were appointed to design a resilient campus that fully integrates the new school buildings into the surrounding landscape and contributes meaningfully to the health and well-being of the local community.
Our initial scope was somewhat limited in that it allowed for more conventional ornamental planting and basic timber climbing frames for the playground. Instead, Square One developed an approach that was more integrated with the landscape. The Learning through Play concept provides an enabling hybrid landscape for young people to grow in their understanding of their environment within a place that fosters personal and relational development for the wellbeing of individuals and their community.
Demonstrating resilience and biodiversity through design with the environment. As the Western Cape is a water scarce region and much of its economy is based on agriculture and the production of food crops, it is important that the design of the school embraces forward thinking strategies to demonstrate resilient landscapes that protect its natural heritage.
The professional team worked together to ensure that all aspects of the school, community buildings and their grounds not only minimize their impact on the receiving environment but enhanced it to create a valuable outdoor environment that brings children in contact with nature. By lowering the buildings into the landscape, we reduced the visual intrusion on this scenic valley and created sunken courtyards that provide shelter from the intense summer winds. The landscape is then wrapped onto a green roof providing thermal insulation and a demonstration garden showcasing indigenous species which are resilient to the local conditions and require less irrigation.
A package plant recycles purified effluent water back into the building while all excess rainwater is captured and filtered through roof planting, rain gardens and biofiltration basins before being stored in tanks or in retention wetlands. The biofiltration basins, swales and wetlands are all consciously designed to creatively reveal and express their function. They also help to frame and articulate play and gathering spaces and provide interactive nature trails and outdoor classrooms.
Large areas of degraded land surrounding the site are under the process of rehabilitation to re-establish the critically endangered Renosterveld vegetation type with learning paths to explore the regions impressive biodiversity. These areas, together with the associated community hall provide aspirational environments that elevate the region, providing wonderful places for the local community to enjoy within the natural and cultural landscape.
Promoting active lives and social development. A diverse outdoor play environment was essential to maximise play and social opportunities for a range of ages and capability levels. Focusing on tactile and natural play; rockeries, sand pits and rain gardens were integrated into the design to achieve a play space that encourages creative and inclusive play in a natural environment.
The play environment incorporates a range of custom-designed structures that complement the architecture of the school while providing places for exploration and fun. Items were specifically developed to engage pupils in different forms of physical activity and to afford opportunities for both active and passive recreation. Rope swings were designed without seats to target core strength and large muscle groups whilst also reducing turnover time. A pole forest allows students to improve balance and coordination and a play embankment with climbing grips and ropes encourages children to improve their coordination. A planted dry riverbed allows for quiet contemplation or group exploration and a sheltered citrus courtyard provides a shaded place for reading. Opportunities for learning have been created throughout the school and classes are supplemented with engaging outdoor activities that include nature studies and horticulture.
A sunken multi-sport field caters for various ball sports and athletics and is surrounded by an amphitheatre and large planted berm to shelter it from the harsh summer winds. Together with all the other provisions for informal and nature play, the school children now enjoy the kind of enabling environment that encourages the range of social interactions that help to prepare them for future engagements in their communities and beyond once they have finished their schooling.
Providing healthy minds and bodies with food gardens and therapeutic spaces. High levels of unemployment and malnourishment in the region mean that it is essential for schools to provide balanced meals. A food garden and citrus orchard were designed on the site as part of the school’s health and nutrition programme. Here the children work together to learn how to grow and harvest a variety of organic fruits and vegetables that are incorporated into their daily meals. Local medicinal plants and herbs are also grown to promote a better understanding and appreciation of these species and their use in indigenous tradition.
All aspects of the landscape come together to contribute to the well-being of the school kids and teachers. The revealed views of the surrounding landscape and the direct access to nature help to boost mental wellness. These connections are further embedded by the articulated terrain and enticing play elements that encourage physical activity and social interaction. The outcome is a world class project that enables school kids to learn about their world and each other in a fun and exciting way.
Other designers involved:
Meyer & Associates architects
C7R8+V7 Breede River (Google Plus Code)