Landscape Architecture, now more than ever, plays a vital role in education design. From the youngest minds to the most elite, it is clear that design can positively impact the overall experience and health of those attending these schools, and allows students and their teachers to come together.
Access to outdoor environments has a direct effect on our health. Fresh air, places to walk, play, and exercise have shown great benefits in many arenas. Specifically, in education we are able to use creative design to better impact, and assist students and their experiences. Focusing primarily on trends we may see stem from COVID, use of outdoor space aside from recreation is now more than ever needed.
Outdoor classrooms are seeing a resurgence. During COVID, the demand for outdoor classrooms has skyrocketed. Any campus without an outdoor teaching space is now at a loss. One area for users, and another for the educator. Highlighting this spatial division between students, and teachers can be an important COVID prevention consideration. Benefitting the health of both the educators and students. Infill can also be achieved on campus by retrofitting a steep slope, or unused outdoor space. Large or small, the benefits of outdoor classrooms are endless and create a pandemic proof learning environment.
A non-traditional amphitheater can also provide COVID retrofitting versatility. The Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College’s newly constructed Fine Arts Building included a future phased plan for an outdoor performance space. The performance space incorporated a simple yet impactful space-defining layout. A simple two-foot-wide cast stone paving band defines the space, forming a circle, flush with the flat South Georgia terrain. The performance space within the paved band is an open lawn which can be programed infinitely. Single seating, double seating, and more are all options. When not being utilized as a performance space, it can be used for lounging or exercise. It transforms into the simple type of campus gatherings and experiences you remember after you graduate. Future innovations in amphitheater design and layout will be exciting and new. An amphitheater goes beyond just being a site feature responding to COVID. It tears down barriers between an artist, art, architecture, and outdoor space.
We are also seeing these non-traditional amphitheaters in other school settings aside from higher education. At The Children’s School, we assisted in enhancing an outdoor area allowing for the same versatility. A beautiful space to gather safely and learn safely, for both students and their teachers. Although designed prior to COVID, these spaces prove useful today.
Another creative and multi-purpose idea is upgrading an entrance. This can add tremendous value to any development. Many times, the design is prototypical, consisting of a transitional space, with maybe a bench or two, and of course, a funky colorful planter stuffed with purple fountain grass. Especially due to COVID, these spaces need and can transform into dynamic spaces. Stairs and entrances can perform double duty as small amphitheaters or platform seating. Walkways can grow into small plaza space for socially distanced gatherings. The entry can be a collaborative effort to create transformative, site-specific spaces for its users. Now, users aren’t meeting in the indoor space; they are meeting outside the building entrance. Dynamic entrances moving away from singular programmed uses will be some of the most successful cost-effective, post-COVID outdoor spaces.
Greater access to outdoor space is a foundation for strong education communities and communities overall. This can come from both previously underutilized spaces like an entrance to larger more out of the ordinary like an outdoor amphitheater. As we celebrate World Landscape Architecture Month and take a closer look at this year’s theme “Growing Together”, it is important to look creatively at what this can mean. Now more than ever, our landscape architects are helping build safe spaces all around us, giving us peace of mind and allowing us to stay connected and thrive.