Part of Hackney council's Building Schools for the Future plan 'The Garden' enjoys state of the art facilities specially designed to help its 150 special needs students thrive. It has two outside play areas, a sports hall, adaptable learning spaces and multi-sensory rooms.
The school was built on the site of a former primary school in two stages to keep disruption to a minimum. The new building has created space to merge the primary school with a secondary school, so that students no longer need to change facilities as they grow older.
Oliver Heath Design were asked to transform a former gym primarily used as storage into a wellbeing space for the children. Inspired by elements of nature the new space invites children to play, relax and feel safe, it provides a calm space they can retreat to from the adjacent playground.
Various seating areas were created offering optimised natural light exposure, spaces for relaxation and retreat. The window seat is abundant with natural light and offers safe views onto the playground. The playful built-in hexagonal seating provides somewhere for children to relax and restore their physical and mental energy.
Tactile and visual references to nature are inherent in the textured carpets with varying pile heights and wallpaper with woodland images. These were spcifically chosen to help reduce stress, to energize or to relax.
A multi-sensory feature lets children playfully control artificial lighting by touching the natural surfaces. This triggers a change in colours of the LED lighting and natural sounds like leaves in the wind. The colours mimic natural tones i.e. dawn, midday or dusk. This can increase visual comfort and have a positive impact on circadian system functioning which in turn can improve sleep patterns and reduce stress.
Wood is used for furniture, windows and wall panels. The hexagonal plinths around the seating area vary in height and are made from a natural wood creating a material connection with nature that can decrease blood pressure and improve creative performance.
There is a wealth of evidence that Biophilic Design can improve wellbeing when incorporated into the built environment. Biophilic Design applies the principles that humans have an innate attraction to nature and that increasing our connection with natural elements through the spaces in which we inhabit, work or relax, can improve our physiological and psychological health.
Although trials have demonstrated that having plants in classrooms can lead to improved performance and to reduce the impact of ADHD it is not always possible to incorporate them. For The Garden School this is certainly the case, as plants dont withstand the physical interactions with the students. it was therefore decided to apply elements mimicking nature and using natural analogues (such as natural textures, patterns, colours and images in floor and wall coverings).