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Ashmount SEN School Loughborough

About the Project

We co-designed an outdoor classroom for a special needs school by spending time in the school, observing, talking, and participating in activities in order to build good relationships with staff and students. Many of the students did not have verbal communication skills, therefore observation and participation in existing activities was particularly relevant. A key observation from this approach was how creative the staff were in the way they ‘dressed up’ and transformed their classrooms from an ocean with a desert island to a Viking ship to a concert hall. This gave us the initial idea to create a set of larger scale pieces that could act as ‘coat hangers’ and allow the outdoor area to be ‘dressed up’ as something different every time it was used.


March- April 2010 we held weekly residency sessions on site to observe and gain insight in student and staff use of space and use an iterative design process to develop a set of detailed construction drawings.

May – June 2010 we conducted weekly site visits to oversee the construction process.

Our Tools & Approach

We started with a simple observation process: we joined in classes, we played outside at lunchtime and we conducted detailed interviews with members of staff. We wanted to concentrate on understanding existing behaviours and parameters that would need to be considered and incorporated into an outdoor classroom.

Following the observation process we began designing: we built models to share ideas and then used temporary materials to test out ideas at full scale so that staff could feel fully involved in the process and students experienced the types of spaces we were intending to create.

This process was iterative and staff set up full-scale temporary versions of features they wanted the space to contain; this meant that the dialogue was two way and staff could feel full ownership over the final scheme.

We brought staff onto site during the construction process for any final tweaks and this led to the final classroom being a space that people could imaginatively use immediately following completion.