The Chester Arthur Schoolyard renovation transformed half a city block into an artistic arena for play and learning. Challenging the traditional public schoolyard model, SALT converted the existing asphalt lot into a high-performance, visually stimulating environment for studying habitat, systems, motion and energy. Organized into a series of educational labs, the new schoolyard design offers a myriad of hands-on opportunities for creative exploration and outdoor teaching of STEM curriculum, giving inner-city students the experience of authentic learning in the landscape. This Play & Learning Lab now functions as a neighborhood park, providing community open space in a dense urban area.
The goal was to create a recreational and educational space that through its visual and spatial design inspired students to experiment. Located in the wide floodplain of the city, an organic, flowing form shapes circulation, surface patterns and landforms in the schoolyard, echoing the two rivers that embrace Central Philadelphia. Native plants, paving, structures, screens and colorful paint reinforce the core artistic gesture, enabling outdoor instruction, free exploration and collaboration among teachers, students and the neighborhood. The various design elements are intended to form an integrated and unique experience for elementary school children through lush, natural landscapes and bold built components. In addition, the design provides a new social amenity for the neighborhood and a distinctive visual amenity for the immediate neighbors. A sculpted berm of synthetic turf creates a public amphitheater, a play mound, an outdoor classroom and now, the iconic emblem of the school.
This project involved a unique public-private partnership between multiple stakeholders, and was the result of persistent grass-roots efforts at the community level to mobilize a broad coalition of parents and teachers. The non-profit, school-parent association, Friends of Chester Arthur, was instrumental in fundraising for school improvements, forming strategic partnerships, encouraging multi-generational use and advocating for community inclusion in the schoolyard.
Additional clients were the School District of Philadelphia, administrative leadership of the Chester Arthur School, as well students and teachers. Project funding came from many sources, including the Philadelphia Water Department, City of Philadelphia Neighborhood Transformation Initiative, and the School District. This mix of project users, clients and funding sources required SALT to lead an inclusive and collaborative design process among the various stakeholders, maintaining strong communication lines throughout the team.
SALT facilitated several design charrettes, known as “Discovery Sessions,” with school and community members to gather ideas and feedback, including a visioning workshop with student representatives from every grade. The high level of participation from the diverse user and client group led to an authentic, community-driven design solution, which in turn boosts the likelihood of long-term success for the renovated schoolyard.
The renovated schoolyard fosters an abundance of social, environmental, educational, and economic benefits at both neighborhood and city scales. There has been a surge in community use of the schoolyard during evenings and weekends, increasing opportunities for positive interaction and discourse among long-time residents and newcomers in a shifting socio-economic setting. Teachers and staff have noticed a significant improvement in student behavior and mood since the schoolyard was renovated. Project received 2018 Honor Award from PA-DE American Society of Landscape Architects
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CODA: Collaboration of Design + Art
The global online community that celebrates design projects featuring commissioned artworks.
[ manifesto ]
Art matters. Attention to the details of our environment leads to love of place, which brings us to take responsibility for the spaces where we live and work. And by extension, the people with whom we live and work. And by extension, to our local communities, our cities, our nations, and our world.
We champion the role of artists in our society. We need artists to provide us with inspiration, creativity, and imagination, and to help us envision a better world.
Architects and designers know that remarkable design can change everything. They connect the dots across disciplines, collaborating with artists to make the world a more beautiful place. They are the ultimate patrons of the arts.
In the process, design professionals promote imagination and creativity, and through their commissions, make original art integral to and accessible in people's lives.
Art in our public and private spaces helps us fight ordinary buildings, ordinary streets, ordinary cities. We celebrate the extraordinary.
The architecture of our buildings and the design of our interiors affect our happiness and well-being. Each of us deserves a daily dose of inspiration.