Wiendl / School Patios

School Patios The Influence of Architecture on Childhood Development; The Concept of the Third Teacher / Vila Nove de Gaia

Authors: Valeria Wiendl, Universidade Lusófona do Porto; Silvia Alves, Universidade Lusófona do Porto

Supervisors: Edite Rosa, Dra., Universidade Lusófona do Porto

Research stage: Initial doctoral stage

Category: Paper

1. Introduction

There is currently a concern for school buildings to meet the demands concerning lightning, thermal and acoustic comfort, air quality and good ventilation of the rooms. We talk about the ideal materials to be used inside, the choice of flooring and colours. But what has been said about exterior use?

Psychologists and teachers point out about the decrease in motor coordination in children, derived from sedentary lifestyles or the decrease in the use of quality recreational space 1

According to UN data, about 55% of the world population already lives in urban areas, by 2050 this number should reach the 70% mark. In the case of Portugal, Vila Nova de Gaia´s schools has followed this trend.

With this we have the removal of human beings from natural environments and the increase in the so-called "nature deficit disorder", with children at greater risk obesity, anxiety, depression, anxiety, attention deficit, cognitive problems. 2 Children between the ages of 3 and 10 remain between 6-10 hours daily within the school compound. It is a home-school-home itinerary, always confined in closed spaces, corresponding to approximately 70% of the time in indoor spaces, being recognized by scholars as "Indoor generation", children and adolescents with little contact with fresh air, contemplate the sunlight and maintained contact with greenery. 3

Following studies of the spread of disease and the tuberculosis crisis in Europe between the 19th and early 20th centuries, buildings reflected these concerns, much aimed at their natural ventilation. This theme is again present in the current Covid-19 pandemic crisis, and the need for classrooms with direct contact with the outdoors, open air. They could have taken advantage of this need and allied themselves with convictions linked to the ideals of biophilia, sustainability and better pedagogical formats, but unfortunately the main focus remained only on the issue of contagion 2.

Different Pedagogies and the space

Figure 1: Different Pedagogies and the space

Several pedagogies, created since the late 19th century, already analyzed the impact of the quality of the environment/architecture on the learning process 5. They consider that the environment can be considered as a third teacher: firstly it will be the teacher, followed by the teaching method. 21

Among recognized pedagogies, we can highlight Kindergartens by Froebel 17, Waldorf 18, Montessori 19 and Reggio Emilia 20. They schematized ideal spaces for the teaching practice, or report the importance of having rooms with direct relation to the outside. (Fig.1)

Diagram made by Montessori on body and leg correlation

Figure 2: Diagram made by Montessori on body and leg correlation

Within Portugal, Maria Montessori's pedagogical lines are more widespread among architects, possibly due to the way they are equated in layout and dimensions, but without radically breaking with the current building method. A doctor and educationalist, between 1949 and 1952 she received three nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1926 she published her book La Scoperta del Bambino 4, presenting her studies on thinking about learning in the early years of the child. Based on the child's scale, he developed observations relevant to the act of designing, and specified for the first time the child's scale as an important factor to take into account when designing space.

Evidently, the rational means of combating scoliosis is the modification of the working conditions of schoolchildren, preventing them from remaining for hours in a vicious position" (4,p.19)

Montessori reports on the need for furniture suitable to the children's ages, in order to achieve autonomy, thus promoting motrocity and psychological values in their development. It also concludes the indispensable link of nature contact, especially in urban school children, in order to promote an adult who respects his environment, as he lived and interacted with nature and not only made observations distanced from reality.

Presents a chapter on the proportions of a child's body, having verified that in a newborn baby the legs only correspond to 32% of its stature, at 3 years of age, when they start kindergarten they represent 38% and exceed adult proportions at 7 years of age, with the legs representing 57% of the body (only at puberty will the trunk grow until it reaches 50% of an adult's). (Fig.2) And from this, he explains the natural need for a child to move.

This new concern, of spaces and schools oriented to respect the child's perspective and development, can be seen in Arne Jacobsen's design for Munkegaard Primary and Secondary School, Copenhagen, 1956, where he sought to relate the classrooms to the outdoors. Aldo Van Eyck and his 700 play cannons developed in the Netherlands, with the aim of qualifying abandoned areas affected by the pumping of the Second World War with recreational and convivial spaces 21.

Apollo Schools, Amsterdam, 1980 (in:

Figure 3: Apollo Schools, Amsterdam, 1980 (in:

In Herman Hertzberger's school building projects, we can see the dialogue between architecture and the user, with the perspective of designing spaces from the child's perspective, combined with the interest of pedagogical development. 6 (Fig.3). They was a student, as a child, in a school with Montessori methodology, and developed as his first work after graduating, a school in this pedagogical line, exactly where his wife worked as a teacher. 7

The highlights of both Montessori pedagogy and Hertzberger's design intentions lie in the following points, the last three of which are the architect's: (Fig.4) (Fig.5) (Fig.6)

  • To make a child self-sufficient, whenever possible in safety. Through appropriate furniture and the distribution of spaces which are easy to understand and understand;
  • create direct links from the classrooms to the outside, not only for reasons of salubrity, but using it as an extension of the interior room;
  • promote convivial spaces as well as more private spaces of concentration, trying to stimulate public and private relations, correlating them with the teaching itself and understood the functioning of the city
  • create a more attractive corridor, not only to pass through but also to be in: he called it a "learning street
  • stimulate and provoke, through details in the architectural design, that the spaces are inhabited, and that there is an interaction of the user with the space.

He wrote several studies on lived space, where we can highlight in the projects Apollo Schools, Amsterdam, 1980 and Montessori, Delft, 1960, some images that illustrate this concern and intention of environments that communicate (Fig.4) (Fig.5) (Fig.6)

Maia 10 says: "not always being a child means having childhood", reporting that the child needs to be stimulated in this learning process and we consider that the school square design, can have this role of stimulus/provocation. Noites 11 considers that in the classroom of the future, spaces will be "defined according to the actions that are intended to be carried out (interacting, sharing or presenting and more intimate spaces for actions such as creating, investigating or developing)".

The design of the furniture, which serves as a bench as a play space. In the child's eye, it challenges curiosity and use. Montessori, Delft, 1960 (in: Images taken from the Hertzberger website:

Figure 4: The design of the furniture, which serves as a bench as a play space. In the child's eye, it challenges curiosity and use. Montessori, Delft, 1960 (in: Images taken from the Hertzberger website:

In counterpoint to these occupations of the exterior and the intentions of the Hetzberger projects, we will analyse in the next phase of this ULP doctoral project, the reality of the school squares. Located in the district of Porto, namely in Vila Nova de Gaia, there are 70 public teaching establishments divided into 14 groupings 9.

Raising these questions, is the school square in VNG constituted as a distinct element of the school itself or integrated in the strategies between the building and the square? We will seek to investigate whether the square manages to promote socialization, creativity, motor skills, language, thinking, exploration and how it manages to promote child development.

Following the recommendation of paragraph 2 of Article 25 of the Decree-Law 147/97, of 11 June, the Joint Order No. 268/97 of 25 August, which determines for the outdoor space

  • easy access to the activity room,
  • no less than twice the size of the activity room (which is 2m2/child, with a maximum of 25 children). But teachers teachers say isn’t enough!
Type occupation of the outdoor space of VNG schools

Figure 5: Type occupation of the outdoor space of VNG schools

For primary school there is no definition of minimum area required, it only refers to safety issues, and it is verified that in schoolyards for these ages there are no designed elements, with the exception of shelter, in the few cases where this occurs. From the teachers' perspective these are elements that contribute less to the discovery process and to the psychic and motor development, if compared with unstructured play 12 and the development of risk management by the child, with the support of architecture 13

The DL 50/2018, repasses the municipalities to the competences of maintenance and works of school spaces. It is necessary to unveil how the program of needs is presented in the tenders that are presented to architects.

How do the architects idealize this space? The research will seek to understand if during the intervention project the square is considered as an integral part in the children's education and in what way it is designed.

Peter Barrett and his team recently developed a research at the University of Salford, UK, on primary school projects: HEAD Project (Holistic Evidence and Design). They found that classrooms with physical differences could have learning variation of more than 15% when over one year.

And how can the outdoors contribute to this factor? Psychologists and teachers argue that contact with nature, play and crafts contribute favourably to children with learning difficulties 14.

Currently, standard toys such as slides or other pre-designed toys are introduced to primary schools. First of all, it is important to understand who is proposing them and for what purposes.

It may be the source of the questioning, if there is an interpretation in which the unstructured space should be devoid of elements and design. The educators underline that they need space available for children to run freely, but that they should not be totally flat, to stimulate other movements as well. And they ask for spaces where children can have various interpretations.

In the architects' surveys, under development at the time, we can see that there is a requirement to delimit the flat space to its full extent so that the child can run and jump, when teachers also refer to the need to carry barriers, difficulties as a process of personal growth and coordination. And that they delimit spaces for playing and sitting (such as picnic tables, for example) when children need to have outside spaces to stimulate their creativity and appropriation, as advocated by Hetzberger.

2. Metodology

Despite the differences in topography, typology and programmatic content both in architecture and pedagogical process, the present work will focus on the outdoor environment and its appropriation by children from public pre-school and primary schools. It will present the following methodological structure:

2.1 Case Studies

a. Analysis of works carried out that considered the exterior of the building an extension of the school's interior space:

  • Apollo Schools, Amsterdam, 1980 and Montessori, Delft, 1960 (Herman Hertzberger);
  • Primary and secondary school, Copenhagen, 1956 (Arne Jacobsen);
  • Municipal Orphanage, Amsterdam, 1960 (Aldo van Eyck).
  • French School, Porto - Pólo Jardim Infância Marques de Aguiar (1959) and Pólo 1º ciclo Nuno Valentim (2014)
  • Study working group projects like PatioVivo Foundation in Chile 23
  • Centro Infantil El Guadual/Daniel Joseph Feldman Mowerman + Iván D.Q. Sanchez, 2014

b. Analysis of the design elements and space designed by Aldo van Eyck in Dutch playgrounds

c. Establish the main differences in the design of outdoor playground spaces following Wardorf-Montessori-Froebel-Emilia pedagogies and traditional pedagogy in Portugal.

d. Analysis of the Portuguese regulations on education and school environment.

At the entrance of the school, in the design of the volumes, he interprets the need for half a wall, which can serve as a bench for parents to wait for their children and be able to combine activities (8).* Today, the exterior wall no longer consists of perforated bricks.

Figure 6: At the entrance of the school, in the design of the volumes, he interprets the need for half a wall, which can serve as a bench for parents to wait for their children and be able to combine activities (8).* Today, the exterior wall no longer consists of perforated bricks.

2.2 Survey of school outdoor spaces in VNG:

By means of GoogleMaps and available photographs (due to covid-19 it is not possible to enter all the schools), sampling will be made of the 70 establishments (by area, for example). They will be catalogued by typology and brief description of the occupation of the external space, solar insolation, floor type (in case it is confirmed that this type of documentation does not exist in the responsible bodies). (Fig.7)

In the images, the architect seeks to create spaces for living-conviviality on the stairs, which is normally designed only to serve as circulation. Or he seeks to create amphitheatres, in this case in the interior, to promote convivial spaces, but designed with dimensions and materials that serve to promote living. Apollo Schools, Amsterdam, 1980 (in:

Figure 7: In the images, the architect seeks to create spaces for living-conviviality on the stairs, which is normally designed only to serve as circulation. Or he seeks to create amphitheatres, in this case in the interior, to promote convivial spaces, but designed with dimensions and materials that serve to promote living. Apollo Schools, Amsterdam, 1980 (in:

2.3 Selection of the objects of study:

Due to the need for epidemiological control of the pandemic due to COVID-19, schools were forced to use outdoor spaces frequently. In this way, it will be possible to have study material on what they look like and which elements and provisions of the outdoor space are necessary for children's development at the cognitive, affective and psychomotor level.

In VNG, analysing the schools designed from the Estado Novo period to the current year of the research. The following schools will be chosen for case studies:

  • 01 with Centenary typology (Estado Novo);
  • 01 with the Open typology;
  • Cedro School, by the architect Fernando Távora (1960)

2.4 Surveys and Pilot Project

With the collaboration of professionals in the area of Social Sciences, surveys will be carried out with the school community: teachers, students, parents and others. We will use research and design interventions in schools will be proposed as a process of analysis, seeking to understand how they are included in the process of improving spaces, and what the school they would wish to have/work or design/design would look like.

To base our research, we invited 2 schools to participate in the Pilot project. They are entering school recess. The project has interested the pedagogical team, but is waiting for approval from the school management.

The children will be invited to participate by making a survey of their school. With the help of teachers and parents, they will build a model of the space, delimiting the street, the pavement, the surrounding wall, the yard and its connection with the school building. They will be asked to draw or photograph the spaces in the school they use most and how.

After the school survey, we will carry out the post-occupancy analysis 15, concluding with marking the most enjoyable outdoor spaces.

3. Expected Outcomes

  1. Open discussion about the school square and its potential in child development and the reason for the apparent abandonment of the requalification of school squares (discussions with architects and the community).
  2. Create pilot project with 1-2 schools in order to analyse the impact on some changes and the construction by all involved in a new reality. And publish the result of this activity in local newspapers.
  3. Create a bank of ideas and modular solutions or possibilities so that whenever possible they can be implemented in a quick, effective and low cost way, avoiding the bureaucracy of permissions.

4. Conclusion

In the Sustainable Development Goals, item 4 is dedicated to quality education, and we will seek to foster this debate through the use of schoolyards, seeking to stimulate the creation of individuals who seek to relate to the city space.

Therefore, within the scope of this doctoral research, the study will seek to establish:

  • "the potential of school playgrounds in their ability to create stimulation and child development: socialisation, creativity, motor skills, language, thinking, exploration.
  • will seek to promote a better understanding of the school space as a whole, where the outside can and should also be part of the design process.
  • will develop a basic plan, with a choice of various materials and design possibilities which should be taken into account in both the architectural and landscape design of schoolyards: durability, low maintenance and low cost; importance of light; health; thermal comfort; colour; articulation of spaces; mobility; modularity and the possibility of interaction with the environment elements.

It is necessary to requalify the "habitat" and, in the specific case of our research, to connote the exterior space of the school and the importance of the relationships between those who "inhabit" the school, between the building and its equipment.

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