Can playgrounds make cities?
The renovation of playgrounds and school environments project, as a plan and program of the urban politics of the city and as a regulated architectural project, is a course that is still pending and under development. “The city has forgotten about its children. “The urbanites have spent a lot of time thinking about how to satisfy the needs of a model citizen that corresponds to an adult man of working age, which means a minority,” states Tonucci. In the same way, the vital function and integration of the school patio has also been forgotten. Children will not understand their means if they do not discover them and get to know them, experiencing first hand all of their possibilities in a collective space. It isn’t a coincidence that at the same time that sustainable cities are being talked about, there is a growing interest in spaces, environments, and schools.
All of this requires an in depth revision of the ideas, focus, programs, and experiences with respect to the patio architecture and of the city’s play spaces. Settings that will reclaim a renovated protagonist and in which there will be a necessity to conciliate and integrate the school spaces project with the pedagogic innovation project, all within a singular yet ample and ambitious vision orientated towards an educational city.
Three interventions carried out in Barcelona, projects with time limits, budgets and regulations, have had a great impact on the development of life in the school patio in three school centers: the patio of Fort Pienc Primary School; the patio of the library of the Quatre Cantons Institute of Poblenou and the area (patio and classrooms) of La Farigola del Clot preschool center.
These three centers exemplify strategies and solutions, representative through different forms of intervention, guided by a few basic criteria: on one hand, promoting that the physical relationship and the activities between the classroom and the exterior space is fundamental. On the other hand, extending the life of the patio to other proximal areas from the center to its urban environment also plays a key role in the socialization of children, who interact on their own on the streets, in plazas, parks, and neighborhoods. With this, the city and the school complete the same role as being educators. Lastly, it is also important to combat the non functionality and to encourage the structure of recognizable spaces, characterized yet flexible at the same time, where diverse, new activities can take place making use of the space in their own individual way. The idea is to transform the patios into attractive green spaces and allow their configuration – through grouping adaptable urban amenities with superior natural materials – of the space to be more habitable for regular activities and/or more ephemeral ones, all as part of a strategy for an environmental and spacial improvement.
In the patio, a public and collective space of the school, children – our future citizens – will learn the dynamics of socialization and exploration. Their experience extends from the home on the stair landing, to the neighbor’s patio, to the sidewalk and neighborhood gardens; and to the spaces of the streets and plazas of the city, places of coexistence where the pedagogical task isn’t explicit, rather implicit in the same design or redesign of that same space. It’s about understanding the school as a city and the patio as one of its plazas. Schools always need more advice and specific intervention projects to be able to improve upon their spaces.
But, if building rehabilitation projects already exist, when will a true policy on strategic intervention and environmental improvement in school centers go into effect in the centers and school settings that already exist? And also, when will it be possible to intervene through “regulated integral rehabilitation projects” in school patios? We have a lot of work ahead of us.