The LEADERS campus has several courtyards and sunken plazas which are embraced by different buildings. including the entry ceremonial plaza, parents waiting (to pick up kids) garden, outdoor classroom staircase, botanical garden, STEAM outdoor terrace, and horticulture experiment rooftop.
One of the project objectives was to ensure student safety, Every corner was specifically designed with rounded landscape elements. The intentionally designed details cater to the students’ physical and psychological need and inspire their educational collaboration in a natural landscape environment.
The two sunken courtyard at the western boundary of campus were revealed to have the most exposure to sunlight based on sun shadow analysis. As the spaces are adjacent to the campus buildings, they are most frequently used by students and function as an adhesive space, binding the buildings to landscape. The large courtyard, located in the upper west portion of the site, and small courtyard, located in the lower west portion, connect the cafeteria and indoor gym respectively. However, the courtyards were designed with different depths (18ft and 22ft) based on function, with one for outdoor classroom/event space in the form of an amphitheater and the other a vertical playground.
The amphitheater in the larger sunken courtyard is designed to be flexible and accommodate a variety of uses serving as an outdoor classroom, active play area, quiet reading place, and informal gathering space. Its design elements include a staircase, wooden seating, and vegetation. During lunch, the plaza located in front of the amphitheater is a popular place and bustling with activity; students run and play, swirling along the woven landform at the edge of the buildings.
The vertical playground in the smaller sunken courtyard was designed in response to the drastic level change with inadequate space to accommodate a staircase with a typical layout. The resulting solution features stairs in a zig-zag form, bound between a stainless steel slide nestled in a steep carpet of ornamental grass and a slanted colorful climbing wall. Both the slide and climbing wall encourage students to physically engage with the landscape when traversing the steep elevation.
There are two spaces in particular that were created to serve this purpose, the roof corridor on the fourth floor and the STEAM experiment terrace on the second floor. A linear roof garden is a walkway that bridges two independent buildings.
The primary school’s curriculum is based on the STEAM learning system and the landscape integrates the education principles in the outdoor landscape. A scientific apparatus was incorporated to showcase the principle that the conveyance of air creates force. It is activated by a bouncy medium with an air pump underneath which channels the movement of air in a vertical tube with light weight balls installed inside. When students hop/jump on the bouncy surface, the air causes the balls to move up and down.
This project is an example of how the landscape can complement STEAM educational principles.
Learning opportunities in the physical environment help students understand what they read about and hear from their teachers in the classroom.
The design details of the LEADERS landscape are customized for students between the ages of six and twelve and stray from traditional playground design standards. This age group is in a critical child development stage, where they are becoming more aware of the environment around them and learning by interacting with it. Therefore, the design of the landscape was focused on creating safe spaces that inspire learning.
Three primary physical factors were identified as potential risks – sharp corners and edges, toxic plants, and unexpected grade changes. To mitigate injury from sharp objects, benches, stairs, and other landscape elements were created with rounded edges when possible. Plants were carefully selected with a priority for native and non-toxic species. To prevent accidents caused by unexpected grade changes warning strips, paint, signage, and railings were strategically installed. In addition, generously sized outdoor spaces were incorporated to provide an opportunity for students to release their natural energy in a non-intrusive environment.
A major component of managing risk for a school project is ensuring the parent drop-off and pick-up area is safe and secure. The landscape design provides a gathering space directly adjacent to the school’s main entrance, utilized for parents to drop-off and pick-up their beloved children each afternoon and morning. This area was designed to accommodate times when student occupancy is high and encourage social interaction between parents.
The concept of this project is primarily based on utilizing the outdoor environment for education and accommodating the daily activities of a school campus, blurring the typical boundary between the classroom oriented buildings and the outside space used for play. The design encourages learning through the play while being inspired by the landscape. As many additional schools are planned to open over the next few years in China, this project hopes to inspire designs that embody a natural, engaging, and safe environment that students enjoy.
landscape architects: Ying Lou, Wei Guo, Bining Liu, Yuehua Xu, Yingjia Song, Jiaxing Yang
developer :VANKE, Xi’an
Project location: Xi’an, Shanxi , China