Link to read the article in Turkish: Betonart 53 baladilab 64-69
Learn-Move-Play-Grounds – how to improve playgrounds through participation
Vittoria Capresi, Barbara Pampe (baladilab)
Learning takes place when listening in the school class, during small group discussion, while reading, watching, experimenting and, of course, playing. Through movement, concentration, roll-up games and many others ways of playing, children and adolescents gain essential basic skills that could not be learned anywhere else. Therefore, schoolyards should not only provide a place for a break outdoor, but rather an inspiring, adventurous, inclusive and interactive space that encourages communication and the expression of creativity.
However, a lot of schoolyards (and playgrounds) look very uninspired and even boring.  Imaginative playing-elements which foster a creative use and interaction are rare in playgrounds and schoolyards, and the industrially prefabricated playthings limit inventive activities.
How could be possible to guarantee the safety of the children, by offering at the same time an inspiring playing environment, to experiment with and develop creativity?
Teaching at an Architectural Faculty in Cairo, Egypt, offered us the possibility to work on these questions, combining our teaching activities with hands-on projects, so to implement together with our students innovative playing landscapes.
We developed the format “Learn-Move-Play-Ground” (LMPG), and worked on a series of Design-Build Studios to realise multifunctional spaces as playing landscapes. These suggest a function, but leave complete freedom to the children to imagine and develop their own use of the single built elements: A wooden vertical square with a hole could be a window, or a car, or a horse or simply a spot to jump and hide.
We started in 2012 in Cairo with the first LMPG, and until 2014 we realised five outdoor playing landscapes in different public primary schools in diverse quartiers of the city. In 2016 we exported the same format to Vilnius, Lithuania, where we implemented a new playing landscape in a school in the periphery of the city.
To improve the qualities of playgrounds of schools is a fundamental target of our projects. Still, as university teachers, the education of our students is our main task. University students from Architecture, Urban Design and Educational Science from Germany, Egypt and Lithuania worked with us on the implementation of the new playing landscapes. Beside the improvement of the schoolyard, the project generated many additional values, which resulted to be a fundamental aspect for the professional and personal development of our students: the social interaction between the students, the schoolchildren and other local stakeholder; the diverse creative approach to the design process; and finally the gender and cultural mixture between them.
Usually the courtyards of public primary schools in Cairo are empty, with diverse flooring – earth, tiles or concrete. In the best case, there is a metal football goal without a net. Even the more basic infrastructure, such as shading elements or spots with seating possibilities are very rare. In general, there is not differentiation between the outdoor areas for different age groups or different activities. Objects that motivate children to move, climb or be inspired to role-play are totally missing. The outdoor space is simply not designed as part of the learning environment.
The situation in Lithuania was slightly different because of the climatic situation (everything is green and trees are scattered all over the area), but definitively the same considering the presence of playing elements to foster children to increase their motoric skills and creative potentials.
1: Preparatory phase
During the first preparatory phase, the team looks for a school to work with. A cooperative project is the only solution to guarantee the success of the project and in order to start an effective cooperation, we pay much attention in choosing the school to work with. From the built environmental point of view, we pay attention to pick a school with a courtyard which would need improvement. But even more important, is to choose a school with a caring and open-minded director, to support, facilitate, and moreover for the sustainability of the project: if the director of the school is involved from the very beginning, investing his/her own time and resources (man power and eventually money), he/she will feel the ownership of the results. In turn, this is usually reflected in the future efforts and maintenance of the playground.
2: Design and implementation Phase
This phase includes the participatory design and the building process. The steps between getting the inspiration for the design, to playing with the children in the final playground, are a sequence of well-established actions that we tested and improved during the past years. The very first step of this phase involves a workshop with the children, their parents, the teachers and the director of the school. The participatory workshops with the children aim to get inspiration for the play landscape in a very abstract way.
After the workshop the ideas produced in the form of abstract paper-collage or models are brought to the university, and used as the source of inspiration for the design. It is necessary to think abstractly about the ideas produced by the children, so to cancel any form of tangible elements and reminiscence of practical actions. In doing so, the ideas of the children are reduced to totally abstract concepts and feelings – like “confortable”, “challenging”, “home-feeling” etc. From these concepts is then possible to start the design, returning to the field of concreteness.
The students’ design workshop is an intensive phase with presentations scheduled every few hours to cluster the projects. From the very first LMPG we decided to avoid the competition procedure and opted for a “clustering procedure”. By using this method, the projects with the same qualities are clustered and the students have to build a bigger team, working together on one new design, as a résumé of the previous common qualities. In doing so, each student plays a fundamental role in the final design and actively contributes to the whole playing landscape. We usually end up with two or three situations for playing, which are tested on site.
It is then necessary to get back to the courtyard and to the client: with models and sketches, the design is presented to the children and team from the school, and the students explain the creative process step-by-step: from the children’s original idea to the playing elements. Models are usually an immediate way to communicate with everybody, and the perfect base to discuss. The feedback is always a constructive moment for the students: they have to explain the project, persuade the clients, discuss until they reach a compromise that includes the critics’ comments and finally adapt the planned landscape.
The post processing of the feedback is usually a very quick step, so that finally the building phase can start. We usually build with local and simple materials, such as wood, beams and boards, bricks and sand, cement and gravel to mix concrete and mortar. In each school we install a temporary wood workshop and teach the students how to use the machines and the fundamentals of wood construction. The technical details are developed together with the team and a carpenter who assists the building process. One or two local mason help us in learning the local masonry technics and how to use the materials according to their properties.
During the building phase the children, parents and teachers are involved in the works, carrying bricks, digging holes and mixing concrete. This is always the most enthusiastic and emotional moment, where everybody has the feeling to work as part of a team for the realisation of something beautiful, useful and necessary.
3: Post processing phase
As the implementation phase always end up in a rush, we established this last phase to get back to the schools and record the impressions and feedback regarding how the playground has been used for the few months after the realisation.
As a thank-you for the support, we usually prepare and give as a present a big poster with many pictures of the process and of all the people involved. The handover happens in an informal way, but it is a crucial moment, because it gives us the chance to maintain the contact with the school and to check the sustainability of the playground.
Observe, Search, Improve
The motto of baladilab is “observe, search, improve”. It is not a revolutionary attitude, nor a particularly innovative one, but in the context of architectural education it is quite necessary indeed.
The idea of the LMPG is based on the need to prepare architecture students for the challenges of the real world outside the university. The aim of our workshops is to get the students involved in actual challenges around them encouraging them to deeply observe their city and their environment.
During the past projects the students discovered their city from a different point of view, seeing also the positive challenges and potentials in it. They realised that architecture can have a social impact – even if quite small – on the people. This is for us, as teachers, the most important achievement.
 Karl-Heinz Imhäuser, „Learn = Move + Play. Pedagogical Aspects of Playing and the Importance of Playgrounds“. In: Vittoria Capresi, Barbara Pampe (eds.), Learn-Move-Play-Ground. How to improve playgrounds through participation, Jovis, Berlin 2013; pp.16-21.
 In 2013 a study in Berlin reported that “children in kindergarten and elementary school age have less and less motor skills” Die Bewegungsbaustelle. Einsatz der Bewegungsbaustelle in Kita und Schule. Unfallkasse Berlin 2013; p.5.
 Vittoria Capresi and Barbara Pampe were in Cairo from 2011 and 2014, as Associate Professors respectively of “History of Architecture” and “Design”, at the German University in Cairo – GUC, and funded in 2011 baladilab, an architecture hub, to develop projects associated with the University. See www.baladilab.com (last visit: 18.04.2017)
 Capresi, Vittoria „A design-build studio. Some hints for getting started“, in: Capresi, V., Pampe, B., Learn-Move-Play-Ground, pp.45-46 and Badanes, Steve „Building consensus in Design / Build Studios“, in: Bell, Bryan, Wakeford, Katie (eds.), Expanding Architecture, Metropolis, 2008, pp.248-255.