The new Cairnsfoot School, designed by the Landscape Studio of NBRSARCHITECTURE, is an innovative K to 12 special needs school serving the Brighton le Sands region of Sydney. The School provides education using the NSW’s mainstream curriculum for students with moderate to severe intellectual disabilities. Following an active consultation process, NBRS gained a deep understanding of the importance that learning environments play in supporting the development of children with disabilities associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Discussions with the school Principal and staff highlighted the importance of creating an environment that is safe, responsive to climate, stimulating for development, enjoyable, navigable, challenging and easy to operate.

Two key principles of “shelter” and “challenge” emerged as concepts that had the potential to make real impacts to the development of students. Shelter being at the heart of human need for safety, as well as an innate sense of belonging; and Challenge being key to a child’s development. By integrating these ideas in to play, over time students can develop the confidence and skills required to reach their full potential. Contextual site planning was dedicated to creating a campus that encourages independence and lifelong learning. The idea of shelter in a physical sense provides safe protection through the built form which gently shapes outdoor courtyard spaces. All spaces are connected by continuous weather protection and lead to a large central covered outdoor space. The central canopy is large enough to contain the whole school community and provides a new heart of the school where children of all ages can meet and play. The canopy represents the comforting safe definition of shelter. Trees provide additional shade, as well as offering a place for students to retreat and observe.

The design has been carefully crafted to create clarity of navigation, to stimulate and challenge. Wide circulation paths with clearly defined edges have been included to assist sight impaired students. Paths are continuous without dead-ends and coloured pavements have low glare qualities. The inclusion of pedestrian crossings and signage creates a strong connection to the real world. Outdoor features include water play, climbing hills with tunnel through, achievable balance beams, a bike track, ball court, in ground trampoline and climbing frames. These play features are augmented with socialising and outdoor learning spaces including a herb and vegetable garden, orchard plantings, as well as a sensory garden incorporating stimulating ground textures, and a range of asthma and allergy friendly plant species. These experiences teach children how to extend beyond their perceived limits and provide the opportunity to interact with nature. The landscape connects seamlessly with the indoor spaces and is an extension of the classroom, encouraging learning to take place inside and out. The cohesive design creates an environment which is playful, safe, assuring, comfortable, navigable and allows growth and development through controlled challenge. The school experience assists teachers in their role as student mentors, whilst supporting families through the provision of a positive environment where a sense of trust and happiness is reflected in the design solution. A design that can be viewed as an extension of the home.

“The finished product has presented the school community with an aesthetically pleasing environment with tailored learning spaces that gives an air of calmness and challenge. It incorporates areas that provide for the sensory needs of students as well as their gross motor development. The classrooms and playgrounds provide learning areas that give space for students’ to self-regulate while still being part of the learning group with scope for fundamental development of their social, communication and emotional development. The School design has provided learning spaces that enable staff to provide a functional curriculum for students that supports them to learn and generalise skills beyond the classroom in preparation for living within the community outside school and provides the foundation for lifelong learning. A testament to the success of the new environment of Cairnsfoot School is the reduction in challenging behaviours and from staff observation the generalisation of social skills during recess and lunch as well as the time now spent on authentic learning versus behaviour management.” Lesley Bruce – School Principal

Entrant office name: NBRSARCHITECTURE
Role of the entrant in the project: Landscape Architect
Other designers involved in the design of landscape: N/A
Project location (Street, City, Country): 58a Francis Avenue, Brighton le Sands, NSW, 2216, Australia
Design year: 2012
Year Built: 2016


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