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Creating Healthy, Green Places at Schools

IBI-designed Florida Ruffin Ridley School, formerly known as the Coolidge Corner School, in Brookline, MA.
As we emerge into a post-pandemic world, people continue to seek and value green spaces for sustaining health and wellbeing. Widely acknowledged for intergenerational psychological as well as physiological benefits, green spaces at schools are important for sustaining children’s physical health and mental wellbeing.

By IBI Insights


October 18, 2021
IBI-designed Florida Ruffin Ridley School, Brookline, MA.

Nature, green space, and child health

Studies reveal that children are healthier, happier, and perhaps even smarter and more creative when they have a regular connection with the natural environment, evidencing increased self-esteem, stronger imaginative play, and greater levels of physical and mental activity.

For schools, the definition of nature needs to be broader. We need to get away from the idea that nature is something ‘out there’; that it’s something you ‘visit’. By rethinking the role of nature in our schools, we can ensure that it is accessible and interactive throughout the school day.

Evidence-based design

Landscape architecture professionals play a key role in designing inclusive environments, with evidence-based design intrinsic to what we do and why we do it.

Over a decade ago, the UK’s New Economics Foundation’s ‘Five Steps to Wellbeing’ identified key elements influencing the presence and absence of mental health & wellbeing. These elements – social relationships (connect), physical activity (be active), awareness (take notice), learning (keep learning) and giving – apply across all areas of architectural design and at all scales.

IBI’s landscape architecture professionals have consciously acted on these five principles when designing for nature and green space in schools.

Solutions designed for two very different schools – a new-build school in leafy Cheshire and an inner-city primary school in Liverpool – seek to improve pupils’ physical and mental health. Some of IBI’s design solutions include:

  • Connecting school entrance points to public transport, or to surrounding green space such as ‘park and stride’ schemes, encourage parking away from school grounds — reducing traffic congestion, improving air quality, and promoting exercise
  • Planting native species in ‘green corridors’ encourages wildlife on to the school campus
  • Leveraging poor soil areas within the campus supports wildflower planting
  • Maximising internal and external views into school grounds and courtyards, and planting of green walls or roofs
  • Creating community growing areas encourages learning about growing food or flowers
  • Leveraging waste materials, such as worn tyres, plastic milk bottles, felled timber, house herbs, wildflowers, or bug hotels cost-effectively creates outdoor classrooms and raised planters
  • Replacing hard barriers, such as walls or fences with planting allows for better views of playing fields and green spaces
  • Creating a ‘healthy mile’ route encourages children to walk, run, hop, and skip a mile every day. This only requires the application of distance markers onto walls and surfaces, yet such small-scale interventions have a big impact, as well as being affordable and achievable.

As a result of applying evidence-based approaches, we believe children are better connected to green spaces, learn experientially in the outdoors, and give back to their communities and local natural habitats.

IBI-designed Florida Ruffin Ridley School, Brookline, MA.

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