Shilpa Sethi knew exactly what she wanted to create: a learning environment where young kids could make a real connection to nature. Making this happen effectively and safely would be tricky in any circumstances, but Ms. Sethi chose to locate her school in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, one of the most urbanized neighborhoods in the country. We accepted her challenge to design the grounds for this school, which had to include enough structure to accommodate classes of young kids in a variety of activities, while remaining flexible enough to evolve over time.
The existing site was… well, let us say it had untapped potential. Project designer Adrian Hayes started by devising broad organizing principles, which have gradually coalesced into a specific design. This design allows for maximum flexibility of the New York-sized (ie very small) space. Kids can stay together in groups for a wide variety of class activities, or engage the site individually with options for both active and passive play.
Our outdoor classroom will also flow with the seasons. A child might start a school year by harvesting vegetables from the garden, and learning how to use these in healthy cooking. Winter snow won’t stop the outdoor experiences, whether it is engaging with other kids on the custom play structure or sitting alone for a quiet moment with bamboo in the rock garden. Spring will allow for new exploration and experiments, planting seeds, observing the effects of stormwater, and yes, even playing in the mud. The kids who stay through the summer will have benefit of shady spots for class activities and stories, learning about the play structure’s green roof, and helping the garden plants grow for the upcoming harvest.
If all goes well, construction will begin in Spring 2015, with the first phase ready for the inaugural class this Fall.
- Location: Lower East Side, NY
- Status: Design complete, construction starting Spring 2015
- Budget: <$100k