Wonder Wood schoolyard and forest activity zone in Rebild
A loop of exercise and relations
In recent years there has been an increased focus on what happens in the schoolyard between lessons, and what play, exercise and motor skills can do for learning. In an area of 12,000 m² in the Rebild municipality, VEGA landskab ApS has created an animating activity zone connecting the schoolyard with the nearby forest.
In 2013, the philanthropic association “Realdania” established a campaign to increase physical activity among schoolchildren. The campaign called for “action-packed playgrounds” that could also support “exercise teaching” and outdoor learning activities. 17 projects were selected out of 106 applicants. The “Skørping School” project was selected for realisation due to its focus on links between the school, forest and local community, and for its special aim to activate both “couch potatoes” and teenage girls.
The project has been published in “An architecture guide to the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals” as a successful example of a project improving gender equality (goal 5) by including both girls and boys and making room for everyone. Research conducted after the construction of the schoolyard has shown that the wooden loop has been successful in engaging more girls in active play during breaks.
Design team members
Anne Galmar, Anne Dorthe Vestergaard, Alessandro Merati, Eriko Maekawa,
Iben Marie Schou, Katrine Urth, Luyao Kong, Signe Hougaard
Construction costs (Phase 1)
Enhance the joy of exercise
The project has included considerable work with a user participation process which involved the school staff, students and local stakeholders. The goal has been to create a programme which is built around the needs of the groups and based on a fundamental understanding of Skørping’s special qualities and capabilities – all in order to exploit the resources of the locality and ensure local participation.
The vision of the project is to enhance the joy of exercise with a new schoolyard which merges the forest and school together. The forest should not only be a passive framework around the school, but should also become an active part of school life. In turn school life must revitalize the forest.
The project had a special focus on activating the most difficult group – the “couch potatoes”, i.e. socially challenged and immobile children. The method for this was to create “inclusive” furniture, increase the number of ball fields and, with a large social bench, legitimise watching others play.
Photo: Simon Jeppesen
Photo: Simon Jeppesen
Both a route and a spatial element
The project contains three elements; at the forest edge, where “more of the good space” has been recreated by reinforcing the edge of the space; cutting away and then adding new plants to extend the forest edge zone. The second element is the continuing ‚forest loop‘ of almost 500 metres. The loop is both a route and a spatial element. It takes students completely around the area – from inside the school yard and into the woods and back again. The entire route encompasses many different elements; grandstand, portal, balancing beam, climbing ladder, hanger benches and a treetop house. Play stations make up the third element of the project: playing fields, swings, skating and café tables.
The big wooden loop invites everyone to come out and sit, walk, run or climb and links the inner schoolyard with the neighbouring forest, ball fields and a new skate park.
There are more activities related to the loop as well: an outdoor “lounge”, which can also be used for group work, a big screen and seating for outdoor teaching, and painted graphics, to be used as “game boards” for both play and teaching. A sunken field with a gently curving floor and a circular basket field both invite children to play well-known ball games in new and challenging ways, while the big “fishing” net gathers all the teenage girls who are hanging out, jumping or watching the boys playing football. Further out in the forest, the girls use the circular swing, “walk the loop” as a 500 metre long catwalk or hide in the secret treetop house.
Neighbours and other citizens also enjoy the facilities. While the students of the school are invited out to play in the forest, the local community is also invited in to use the facilities of the school, and a new “loop of relations” is growing.
Photo: Simon Jeppesen
Three Questions to the Architects
Anne Galmar and Anne Dorthe Vestergaard
Partners VEGA landskab
Which design trends do you see in leisure facilities and public spaces? We see new interest in making public space inviting for a broader audience. For some time, many of these spaces have been programmed only with facilities for skateboarders, soccer players and basketball players – activities which all have a certain appeal to boys and young men. Now we are seeing a shift towards a more inclusive form of programming, with places for hanging out, spectating or for simply contemplating and resting. This makes spaces appealing not just to 10- to 20-year-old males but to everybody regardless of gender or age.
How can schoolyards become places for users of all ages? With the programming tools just mentioned. At VEGA we work with something we call “the active spectator”. With this we try to create programmes for hanging out and resting – in addition to the more active programme – that still have a hint of activity. A big net for hanging out in groups for teenage girls requires a certain amount of climbing and a sofa-bench that also serves as a swing encourages users to sit and swing. Adding these elements makes being an onlooker legitimate – because you are not only a spectator, since you are also “doing your thing”. And it makes the transition from looking-on to taking part in the game easier, as you are already “in motion”.
What do play and physical activity mean to you as an architect? For us it is important to add a programme for play and activity that invites everyone to join in. This includes “non-competition-facilities” which are not about being the fastest or strongest but about playing together even on different levels, about learning from each other and about gradually being challenged. We also strongly believe that play should not be tied to age, so by having the ambition to make “playful spaces” we hope to be able to encourage anyone to step out of their daily routine and into a moment of joy and playfulness.
Three Questions to the Sponsor
What is behind Realdania’s campaign to rethink the idea of the schoolyard? Our campaign helps to generate new knowledge and looks at experimental projects that renew and challenge the traditional notion of the schoolyard. Our projects involve making schoolyards more exciting and encouraging more physical activity and play for all children, including the less active – during and after schooldays. The campaign “Drøn på skolegården” aims to combat obesity found in an increasing number of children and tries to improve children’s ability to achieve the national recommendation of at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day, to benefit not only their health, but also their ability to learn.
Wonder Wood specially aims to activate both “couch potatoes” and teenage girls. What are the park’s features motivating these two target groups? The evaluation of the campaign shows that girls, the less sports-interested pupils, and the oldest pupils are the groups in most need, in terms not only of the facilities, but also of the organisational support given by teachers or other “activators”. Girls like to be active in smaller groups and on their own terms. The less active tend to prefer facilities for skateboarding, places for “hide-and-seek” and opportunities for building hideouts, and older pupils tend to like activities that don’t get them sweaty, like on a walking path or the like. According to older pupils, it is important for the facilities to be situated near the classroom, and for teenagers to identify with the design of the area and elements.
Project leader Realdania
Why are appealing schoolyards so important? As schools are often located near residential areas and are therefore often the place where children hang out after school and during weekends, schoolyards have huge potential for encouraging more physical activity among schoolchildren and thus creating better quality of life. All in all, the focus has therefore been on health, quality of life and the creation of a stimulating and motivating environment – an environment accessible not only to schoolchildren, but to everybody in the neighbourhood.