Riverside Community Primary School outdoor classroom answers to the community

Words:
Michèle Woodger

Multidisciplinary student team from University of Plymouth turn windswept hill into learning space

An aerial photo of the outdoor classroom and its fire pit.
An aerial photo of the outdoor classroom and its fire pit. Credit: Andrew Morris

Building: Gather, Make, Learn
Location: Plymouth, Devon
Architect: BA Architecture, BA Education Studies and BA Early Childhood Studies students and academic teams, University of Plymouth
Building type: Outdoor classroom / standalone structure

Riverside Community Primary School is on a hilly site close to the River Tamar in Plymouth. Its grassy garden should have been an idyllic setting for learning and play, but in the 10 years since it opened, teachers and pupils had been unable to enjoy the space because it is buffeted constantly by strong winds.

A team of first year BA Architecture students from the University of Plymouth helped revitalise the plot, in collaboration with students from the Early Childhood Studies and Education departments. The main objective was to develop an outdoor learning space with a fire pit as a focal point. The aspiring architects would experience various job stages, from briefing to post-completion evaluation, within a live nine-week time frame.

  • The curved structure protects staff and children from a windy site.
    The curved structure protects staff and children from a windy site. Credit: Andrew Morris
  • The project gave students experience of hands-on construction.
    The project gave students experience of hands-on construction. Credit: Lucas Voss
  • 130 recycled wooden pallets make up the curved structure and seating.
    130 recycled wooden pallets make up the curved structure and seating. Credit: Ioana Popovici
  • Students from the University of Plymouth assemble the structure.
    Students from the University of Plymouth assemble the structure. Credit: Toshiko Terazono
  • A fire pit with a brick surround has a 'neolithic' appearance.
    A fire pit with a brick surround has a 'neolithic' appearance. Credit: Ioana Popovici
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Students grouped into teams to generate a design concept and propose it to the school. Each scheme had to include locally sourced recycled timber; in the end the entire structure (with the exception of a brick surround for the fire pit) was of recycled materials, including 130 timber pallets.

A six-week consultation narrowed the proposals down to five: the site was replanned and students regrouped for the construction phase. The key feature of the new garden is a 13m long and 1.6m tall undulating wall, its size and form based on children’s body scale.

University staff say the exercise ‘had a significant impact on students’ learning, developing group working skills and experience of progressing a project through from planning to implementation’. The future architects discovered the socio-economic and ecological challenges facing the community, and the requirements for designing an enhanced and safe learning environment, as well as the practical elements of progressing a design to a 1:1 scale and hands-on making. ‘I like it. It’s educational aspiration and answers to the community,’ says judge Cecilie Sachs Olsen.

Kathy MacEwen agrees: ‘Thinking about my dad [Malcolm MacEwen, whom this award is named after] one of the things he did was to open architecture to communities.’


Click here to see the longlist and other shortlisted schemes

Credits

Sponsors:  Gillsons Timber & Sheet Merchants, Plymouth, Devon; Woodgates Trees, Plymouth, Devon; Braund Builders, Brixham, Devon
Architect: BA (Hons) Architecture Year 1 students (2018-2019 cohort); BA (Hons) Architecture Year 1 academic team: Robert Hill, Zoe Latham, Andrew Morris, Dr Ioana Popovici, Timothy Snell and Toshiko Terazono
Consultant: BA (Hons) Early Childhood Studies Year 3 students (2018-2019 cohort); BA (Hons) Education Studies Year 3 students (2018-2019 cohort); BA (Hons) Early Childhood Studies + BA (Hons) Education Studies academic team: Dr Karen Wickett and Susie Peeler; Robert Collier