Text description provided by the architects. About two weeks after construction was complete on the Rakafot School, for which we were the landscape architects, and the opening of the school year, we received a surprising phone call: “I wanted your opinion on adding frogs to the school’s ‘Winter Pond.’ It was the agriculture teacher "We received complaints about mosquitos, and it seems to be the right way to stop them is by using frogs. Besides, it will be wonderful to hear their croaks along with the children’s loud and cheerful voices.” “It’s a great idea,” we hastened to assure her, with a fantastic inner feeling, “yes, that works.”
The platform we designed for the school’s faculty and student body to sense, observe, discover and learn about the environment facilitates the creation of a rich and changing ecosystem.
The “pond” is a depression which gathers the runoff from its immediate environs after the plentiful first rains about the time of the beginning of the school year. The pool filled up with water and a variety of flora and fauna. Besides the water acting as a decorative element in the landscape, the reservoir presents a practical lesson in collecting runoff water for irrigation and gardening as well as an opportunity to observe the wide variety of life forms which enjoy the rich habitat.
The “winter pond” is just one example of integrating the principles of green construction in designing the schoolyard of Kiryat Bialik’s Rakafot Elementary School. The elementary school, with its 18 classrooms, is a pilot project of Israel’s Ministry of the Environment, in advanceof future construction of similar ecology-oriented schools. The extra added values accruing to this kind of school are manifold, including environmental awareness and preservation of the environment, efficient use of resources, optimum learning conditions, and environmental education.
Additional principles of green construction were assimilated into the planning of the grounds by creating areas where the rainwater could infiltrate the soil, and designing areas shaded with pergolas and local water efficient plantings. To restore local flora and fauna to the school grounds, we created varied habitats, such as the butterfly garden at the main entrance, where we planted species of plants forming habitats for varieties of local butterflies.
Sections of the main school pathway and the parking area were paved with recycled stone tiles to form the main space, on both sides of which stand the separate school structures: the classrooms building, library, administration module and gymnasium. This main pathway links the divisions of the school. All along its length, we planted poplars, which will soon grow up into the openings in the pergolas providing shade above the pathway.
Some of the principles of conservation of resources used in green construction will be implemented through the use of green roofs, which provide excellent insulation while preventing refraction of sunlight, as well as embodying a visually-interesting learning space. Thus the green roof helps assimilate the environmental values through having the students care daily for the plantings and maintain the herbs and spices in the roof garden.
We designed what we call the “adventure path" to provide a sense of adventure and replace the central pathway. Although it twines around the various buildings and the yard area, it is narrow, winding, and much more intriguing than the wider central pathway. It is made of asphalt, not stone, beginning from the parking lot and passing over grassy hills and vegetation which blur the school’s borderlines to create an interesting three-dimensional space. The path goes through the play spaces decorated with circles used for all types of games. In practice, we consider the pathway itself to be an extremely meaningful play environment facilitating movement and challenging the imagination.
In designing the open space, we strove to correspond with the architecture of the school buildings, with their diagonals, areas skipping over the space, and the circle patterns in the playground. The straight rows of the plantings and the elliptical platforms are complementary to the lines characterizing the school structures. The integration of the architecture and the surrounding landscape created a single, holistic environment.
Along with the integration of green principles, what we consider of utmost importance for school grounds is to envision the school grounds as a space complementing the classroom areas on many levels. The school grounds must be a flexible zone enabling play, movement, running and jumping. It is a changing space with soft forms, and should be as close to nature as possible. Although the open space can be considered a learning space, we see it primarily as a refuge from the classroom, a place in which to observe study closely and, with a little luck, discover little tadpoles which began a new generation of frogs.