May 22, 2014

Fordham outdoor classroom starts on site

For the last few months we've been working with Hana and Tom's local primary school, which their children attend, to design a new outdoor classroom. The project started when the school's PTA, Friends of Fordham, announced that they had raised funding to purchase a generic outdoor shelter structure to act as an outdoor classroom for the school. We offered to use the same budget to create a structure that would be unique and special to the school, co-designed with the pupils and staff, and built by ourselves as a pro bono project.

It's been a fantastic process, involving the children and staff fully in a number of ways. The whole school undertook a half-term project in the Spring term to kick off the design process, each child producing a model, drawing or in some cases a whole project report of what they imagined an outdoor classroom might be. Some wonderful ideas emerged and beautiful creations. We then held a workshop that explored making and construction through making rolled-newspaper structures and spaghetti towers, as well as allowing each child to present their half-term project.

Following some design work by us, we then presented three options to the whole school for their input. A brilliant conversation developed, with children commenting on everything from the practical - how would the rainwater drain, how would it be safe? - to the spatial - views of the sky and grounds, position on the site, enclosure and shelter vs openness and flexibility. From this we developed a final design that takes the form of a simple circular plan, partly inset into an existing grassy mound in the grounds, sheltered by a hyperbolic 'pringle' roof (apologies to the Olympic Velodrome, and thanks to our brilliant engineering collaborators Momentum for helping with making this work!)

Today school finished for half-term and we started to build the structure. It's a real community effort, with our neighbour Paul Richardson doing the excavation for free, local metalworkers Wesbroom Engineering making the steelwork at cost, and materials supplied at a good discount from local builders' merchants Kent Blaxill. Fingers crossed for decent weather over the next week, and we'll be updating you with pictures of us looking unusually sweaty as we hopefully have the shelter ready for when the children return after half-term!


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