In 2021, our landscape team were appointed on a Design and Build contract for four new primary schools in the Republic of Ireland, the last of which is due to complete this summer. Working closely with multiple stakeholders to ensure that each school’s landscape elements enhanced and integrated with the surrounding community, a key challenge was to deliver four schools’ landscape schemes simultaneously. The brief outlined several key themes for them to follow, with each delivered uniquely according to their individual context.
Learning through Landscape
Each of the schools includes a Special Needs Unit (SNU) as well as mainstream facilities. Outdoor classrooms provide a variety of learning spaces, including seasonal interest within the planting for sensory enhancement of the outdoor learning environment.
A wide diversity of planting types focuses on native species includes trees, hedges, shrubs, planted retaining walls and wildflower areas, allowing pupils to learn about plant species while enjoying the range of textures and colours that change throughout the year.
Sustainability has been integrated throughout the early stages of the design, with a landscape-led approach, along with providing a second purpose as an educational tool for the pupils.
Sustainable Urban Drainage systems (SuDS) not only sustainably address surface water run off related to the landscape works, but they are also an opportunity for pupils to learn first-hand how the landscape helps to alleviate the effects of climate change. Working hand in hand with the Civil Engineers and architects, features to minimise water waste have been incorporated throughout, including permeable paving, tree pits and rain gardens.
The retaining walls, where possible, have been utilised for planting. These ‘green’ walls have multiple benefits; adding greater variety of sensory planting; providing habitats for insects; and improving the air quality of the school grounds.
Recycled street furniture has been utilised throughout, and local suppliers have been employed, further minimising the schemes’ carbon footprint.
Accessibility and Inclusivity
With inclusivity at the heart of these schools, our team have worked closely with all relevant parties to ensure they remain connected to the communities in which they sit.
One of the schools features a previously established public route, which we have worked hard to improve, assisting with access to key areas of the community. Collaborating with Building Control Regulations and Works Requirements, the team have ensured that sites are accessible to pupils, staff and visitors of all abilities, specifically paths, play areas and main approaches to buildings. This includes the provision of accessible parking spaces, electric vehicle charging and cycling storage to both facilitate various methods of travel, and encourage low carbon methods.
The external environments of the schools have been designed to include diverse, multi-functional spaces that are flexible to the pupils’ needs. Areas dedicated to the SNUs include a variety of play, outdoor learning and sensory landscape elements within a safe, secure environment, while the mainstream provision offers are flexible for both formal and informal play. Additionally, Multi-use games Areas (MUGAs) accommodate all-weather provision for football, basketball, volleyball and other sports. Raised planters have also been included on the sites to provide pupils with opportunities to grow and learn and have hands-on interaction with the landscape. One of the Schools also features a fully accessible Sensory Garden, linked to the SNU Play Space, allowing pupils of all abilities the opportunity for a series of diverse sensory experiences.
While a challenge to manage the landscape services for multiple projects that are running to similar programs of work, the team’s efforts have produced comprehensive, inclusive schemes that provide a refreshing identity for the new schools. The projects have brought differing sets of Architects and multi-disciplinary teams together, with the joint venture of the contracting teams, with collaboration central to the delivery of these projects.