Patio Vivo: Transforming Schoolyards into Learning Landscapes

The Patio Vivo Foundation seeks to promote active free play, positive and healthy relationships, wellbeing and contact with nature by articulating space, community and the culture of kindergarten and school playgrounds. In the following article, they describe their working methodology in their own words.

School landscape

During the 20th century school building policies were implemented in Chile to achieve universal education coverage. Building design and construction focused on formal learning activities (classrooms, libraries, sport fields), administration offices, and hygiene and food services, leaving the schoolyard (the place for informal learning) as a residual flat space between classrooms. Thus, the school landscape has not been designed to promote play nor social encounter. For this reason, schoolyards are very similar all over the country; they tend to silence their culture and territory, as well as the community’s views, which leave them barren of individual identity.

In Patio Vivo we work to give schoolyards another meaning, transforming the space into Learning Landscape

© Álvaro Benítez, cortesy of Patio Vivo

Learning Landscapes

A schoolyard that has been transformed into a Learning Landscape articulates space, culture and the community’s view, such that the use students give to it promotes physical, socioemotional and cognitive learning. To achieve this articulation, we have developed an interdisciplinary method through a dialogue between Architecture and Education, which bonds the community with the transformed space and encourages them to reflect on the benefits of outdoor play.

Monte Everest Kindergarten, Renca, Santiago.. Image © Álvaro Benítez, cortesy of Patio Vivo
© Álvaro Benítez, cortesy of Patio Vivo

Space plays a key role in encouraging play and social encounter. By using polyfunctional structures, organic materials and contact with nature, the schoolyard and the way it is used changes. A Learning Landscape communicates the community’s knowledge, traditions and values; it also promotes active free play, healthy lifestyle habits, positive relationships and wellbeing.

© Álvaro Benítez, cortesy of Patio Vivo
Ayelén School, Rancagua. Image © Álvaro Benítez, cortesy of Patio Vivo

Space as a key factor for learning, has been considered, among others, by architects such as Richard Neutra, Herman Hertzberger and Carl Theodor Sørensen; the sculptor Isamu Noguchi, and the educator Loris Malaguzzi, who developed the idea of space as the third teacher. A Learning Landscape is an architectural piece, not a sum of different elements.

Padre Francisco NapolitanoAgricultural School, Valle de Lluta, Arica. Image © Álvaro Benítez, cortesy of Patio Vivo

Risk in play

To acquire all sorts of skills, children and teenagers need a diverse and challenging space that encourages active free play outdoors. During play, students discover personal interests and build social relationships. The Learning Landscape’s design considers the students’ ages without underestimating them, so they can test themselves, make decisions, self regulate and find their own limits.

© Álvaro Benítez, cortesy of Patio Vivo

It is important to acknowledge the difference between beneficial risk and danger, to avoid becoming an overprotective society. Walking or running up a slope, climbing on a rope or hanging from monkey bars, are examples of beneficial risks, because students need to develop different skills to manage them. If children do not have access to challenging playgrounds, they will probably look for challenges in spaces that have not been purposely designed and may be dangerous, like climbing walls, fences or roofs. 

Ayelén School, Rancagua. Image © Álvaro Benítez, cortesy of Patio Vivo

Very often schools limit children’s play to prevent accidents. There is a common belief that a flat space is safer; however, when that space must contain hundreds of students from different ages running simultaneously and playing ball, it becomes an intimidating and excluding place for many children. When the schoolyard is organized according to different interests, the way it is used changes, and the recess experience becomes more inclusive, calm and secure. The schoolyard has a more democratic use when all students find a place to play.

Volcán Ojos del Salado Kindergarten, Renca, Santiago.. Image © Álvaro Benítez, cortesy of Patio Vivo

Materiality, Nature and Play

The choice of materials aims to promote play and enhance the value of the school’s territory and culture. We use noble, long-lasting organic materials that allow students to experience different textures and smells. While playing around trees, with soil, mulch or on structures purposely designed for free play, students learn about materials, culture, nature’s cycles and the region’s native flora.

Padre Francisco NapolitanoAgricultural School, Valle de Lluta, Arica. Image © Álvaro Benítez, cortesy of Patio Vivo
© Álvaro Benítez, cortesy of Patio Vivo

The Outdoors Classroom Methodology

Together with the Learning Landscape it is essential to work with the school community to encourage a recess culture that promotes challenging play and outdoor learning. The Outdoors Classroom Methodology aims to train teachers and schoolyard supervisors in pedagogical strategies focused on promoting positive relationships between students, wellbeing, environmental education and recess culture. We aspire to make the school recess a key moment for hands-on learning; and to expand the school’s teaching methodologies by moving lessons from the classroom to the schoolyard. 

Ayelén School, Rancagua. Image © Álvaro Benítez, cortesy of Patio Vivo

21st Century Education

The 21st century requires polyfunctional educational spaces that provide opportunities for hands-on learning and foster the physical, socioemotional and cognitive development of students. From Architecture, we can give the schoolyard another meaning and contribute to the students’ learning, wellbeing, school motivation and sense of belonging.

Projects: Patio Vivo Foundation
Content: Ángela Ibáñez
Architecture: Álvaro Benítez
Education: Marcial Huneeus - Patio Vivo team
Text: Marcial Huneeus and Álvaro Benítez
Images: Álvaro Benítez
Translation: Margarita Puga

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About this author
Cite: Dejtiar, Fabian. "Patio Vivo: Transforming Schoolyards into Learning Landscapes " [Patio Vivo: "resignificar los patios escolares y convertirlos en paisajes de aprendizaje"] 28 Jan 2020. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

San Esteban Mártir School, Lo Barnechea, Santiago. Image © Álvaro Benítez, cortesy of Patio Vivo


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