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Outdoor Classroom

Donabate, Co. Dublin

Outdoor classroom

For this Per Cent for Art commission, I created a concept that would be distinctive of the schools ethos and beliefs, while also creating a visually stimulating space that would be a slice of earthiness and nature in an urban area largely dominated by concrete and steel.

The Concept

The outdoor classroom consists of a walled garden type structure. The walls are comprised of dry faced stonework, inspired by the ancient traditional dry stone walls found throughout the country. Taking inspiration from the four strands of the learning spiral from the school ethos, the centre of the structure is a large spiral incorporated into the floor and walls. The first strand of the spiral is already visible as you walk towards the classroom. It spirals first along the ground, then into the wall, before curling up to create the arched entrance into the classroom. Similarly, another of the strands runs into the wall, curling up to form the border of the family tree mosaic. Yet another strand finishes at the teacher’s stone chair, with the fourth strand of the spiral turning into the path of the exit from the classroom.

The concept is to have a structure that is visually inspiring from both the outside and the inside, a place for children to get excited about being in the great outdoors as well as learning about it.

The stone structure sits in between sculpted grass mounds that help create a wilderness setting. These mounds fill with colour in the early spring with a dense mixture of spring bulbs. This explosion of colour is continued on into the late autumn by the blend of native Irish wildflowers which will also encourage wildlife into the area.  The planting inside the structure is composed of various colourful seasonal flowers the children can both plant and admire throughout the year. Planted inside the stone structure, behind the stone teachers chair is a native ‘Fairy Tree’, or Hawthorn. The Hawthorn, with its beautiful spring blossoms, is a tree embedded deep in Irish myths and folklore and will make for many a great tale on a sunny day in the classroom.

Student participation.

The design brief called for the students to be involved in the project in some way so that they could put their own stamp on the project. The design allowed for a number of projects for the kids to get involved in.  The natural stone ‘Family Tree’ mosaic that is incorporated in the walls has leaf shaped tiles which the kids got to paint in class along with the border tiles that surround the mosaic.

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