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Sunday, 05 May 2013 14:20

Designing with Children: The Birkdale Adventure Environment

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native-planting   flying-fox   tyre-swing

Birkdale Primary School Play Environment


The Principal of Birkdale Primary School contacted the Community Design Studio at the beginning of 1990 to ask whether it was possible for the students to design and build a playground for a school of approximately 220 children. We agreed to be involved with the understanding that the children would design their own play world, and that the parents would be fully involved in the fundraising and the construction. The school supports the only bilingual unit (Maori/English) in North Shore City. The project ran for 10 weeks, the first 5 weeks involved contact with the client - (the children, teachers and parents). During this time students helped the parents and staff in organising a School Fair to raise the necessary funds for the playground. $10,000 was raised. Separate designs were then prepared by the children, with the in-class help of the architecture students, leading eventually to one final design.  The second five week period was devoted to the construction of the playground - a multi-use, multi-structured environment complete with slide, flying fox, track slide and tyre swing. Over 60 cubic metres of earth were shaped into landscaped mounds, and on the last week children and students planted 200 native trees. These are now tended by the children. The project was completed on time and within budget. Cost estimates indicate that the playground was constructed for approximately one quarter of its commercial value. Needless to say, the children felt a great deal of "ownership" of their school.

What was unique about this project was that it was the only time in twenty years at the University of Auckland that we were able to integrate design and building works. Auckland considers itself a "design" school its conception of Community Engagement involves telling the community what it needs . To add to this complexity, building construction is seen at the University as something that "the trades" do. - a carry-over from the outmoded days of streaming and social stratification of the British colonial system. As wou will see from this example, the students at the University of Auckland are missing an essential conponent of their learning experience by virtue of this conservative and reactionary conception of "design".

This PDF charts the story of the Birkdale project.


To download the PDF click here .


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