Integrating outdoor spaces and learning - Samford Valley Steiner School

Published: Wednesday 17 April 2019

The LEA Queensland Chapter's visit to the Samford Valley Steiner School on March 27 was an opportunity to reflect on the role outdoor spaces have in both architecture and education.

The group of designers and educators met at the school’s country property 40 minutes out of Brisbane CBD. The campus tour followed on from the LEA workshopping event “The School Landscape - an opportunity for outdoor learning,” held at the State Library three weeks earlier.

The visit was hosted by Chris Jack and Joan Weir who led the tour through the school’s tranquil 20 acre property in Samford. The visiting group was first given an introduction to the school’s philosophy based on the works and teachings of Rudolf Steiner:
•    There is a  focus on teachers having a deep understanding of the developing human being
•    The non-denominational School encourages children to connect with their spiritual and emotional selves
•    There is an emphasis on environmental sustainability, ecology, and using natural materials and traditional manual arts
•    A focus on community involvement and cultural understanding

The visitors were then led around the school and given an opportunity to see how these philosophies manifest into education spaces.

The workshop room we were initially gathered in had high level opaque sheeting, which provided diffused natural light and a connection to the weather and nature outside. As we walked outside the shouting and cheering of students could be heard as they played tug-a-war in the rain, as part of their Autumn festival celebrations.

The congregation moved on to the science classroom, where the seamless integration of technology and natural materials created a space which felt both formal and inviting. Within this space the school’s Architect Paulo Denti of pentArchi gave a short lecture describing his process of designing with sustainability at the core and a close understanding of the Steiner philosophies.

A high level of craftsmanship was evident throughout all buildings on campus. Features such as wood carving, custom timber framed glazing and louvers, rounded spaces, and high quality finishes demonstrates the care and attention to detail given to the design and construction of these spaces.

As the group walked between the classrooms, the tranquillity of the natural country landscape; the lake, the garden beds, and the wildlife sat at harmony with the series of small crafted timber school buildings.

The buildings were each designed for a specific purpose and age group, with unique colour palettes outlined by Steiner’s philosophies. The original two classrooms are still in use, painted in a warm shade of yellow and filled with handcrafted furniture and a traditional blackboard.

The performance hall is located at the centre of the campus and was constructed from recycled timber donated to the school following the demolition of the woolsheds at Ferny Grove. This multi-function space spills into the surrounding landscape through terracing to the east and west, and timber bi-folding doors to the north and south.

The kindergarten classrooms were one of the original buildings on site, designed by Greg Burgess Architects. The internal spaces feature curved walls and windows, soft lighting and pastel pink walls. The internal finished and direct connection to the kitchen, entry threshold and amenities created a comforting and homely learning environment.

These spaces were also filled with handcrafted furniture and toys laid out in scenarios to spark learning through imagination and play.

The internal learning spaces all had direct connection to the outdoor landscape, which incorporated natural play equipment, climbing equipment, water play, and garden beds cared for by the students. The development of the school treads lightly on the site’s natural terrain, encouraging native flora and fauna came right up to the classrooms.

One meandering path connects the length of the school, creating a single hardscape spine flanked by varying terrain and tall trees.

The event finished with a networking opportunity over afternoon tea in the school's library. The library was another carefully crafted space with high level opaque sheeting providing soft light from the outdoors.

The event gave all participants an opportunity to reflect on the important role of outdoor education spaces as well as the connection of indoor spaces to the outdoors. It also demonstrated the way buildings can embody and reflect the philosophies of their client.

Article: Chloe Edwards & Emily Bell
Photos: Towill Design