The Heritage Elementary Learnscape (v1.0) at Heritage Elementary School, Olathe, Kan., was designed as a collaborative effort among students, staff, and Hollis + Miller Architects to create a unique educational canvas for students to explore, imagine and learn. The process began with a design charrette led by the architect, where students from kindergarten up to fifth grade as well as teachers had the opportunity to “play architect” and design their own ideal outdoor classroom. After that, these ideas were combined with design concepts that reinforce the fundamental ways students learn to create the new outdoor classroom.

The Learnscape has been designed using four main elements: learning walls, plaza, pavilions and seating. These elements have been organized in a composition that promotes the natural and varied ways we learn as well and using its unique exterior environment. The learning walls create a backdrop for traditional large-group teaching and in unison with the plaza, begin to spatially define the Learnscape. The plaza contains a large-scale checkerboard, reinforcing the concept that learning occurs even within play.

The rest of the Learnscape is defined by light and airy pavilions. While providing a supervisory function, the open abstract cubic forms animate the space and engage the students’ creativity. Educationally, these structures can house small-group or individual learning, whose context is only limited by the imagination and could conjure visions of castles, old west storefronts or even a rocket traveling through space.

The final piece that ties the other components together and creates the most flexibility for the educators to change the group’s size and dynamics is the articulating bench. Mobile and shape- changing, the bench has the ability to form large groups or bend to create small learning areas. Because of its mobility, the learning spaces and opportunities created can flow and move within the plaza and are not fixed to specific zones. Just outside of the plaza area of the Learnscape are landscape beds where the unique classroom setting of the outdoors can be taken full advantage to learn about the planting, growth and care of various plants can be explored.