Outdoor Classroom


BRIEF:  Freelance project for Collective Works to design an outside space at Highgate Primary School that would encourage learning outside of the classroom.


NZS worked with Collective Works to manage the entire design for an outdoor classroom for Highgate Primary School. The headteacher wanted to bring learning outside, and the school needed multi-use flexible space that could be used for formal education as well as informal play and performances for the children.  The school cares for children with disabilities, such as autism, so sensory expression and adaptability was incredibly important for the space.


The design process involved an inclusive child-led ideas workshop that incorporated the school children’s thoughts on colour, shapes, landscape and why learning outside is different from learning inside (“we can shout and run!”). The intention of the space was to be open to interpretation by both children and adults.


The outdoor classroom is now completed and has elements from the workshop and the design inspiration of natural landscapes. The 65 sq. space, which is formed of a larch platform and colourful backdrop, is being used by small groups of children for activities such as reading, arts and crafts, or story-time.


The most satisfying element of the project was designing it to ensure it helped the children who used it, to deal with the feelings of being overwhelmed and to encourage their bravery. One of the children’s favourite features are the secret spaces. The spaces are too small for adults to fit inside and are created by removing the useful foam stools. The teachers told us that the children were building courage, navigating the steeper elements of the trail and that the secret spaces were proving invaluable when they needed their own space and to feel safe.


Practicality was also essential for this design.  The stools that, when removed, create the secret spaces, are useful for seated learning and can also be stacked or used as building blocks. Arranging the stools at different heights to allow for a climbing route up and over the frame with different views of the rest of the playground.

Picture by Thomas Broadhead

Video by María Catalina Venegas