From the Gardens of Versailles to the common Australian backyard, landscaping has always played an important role in society. However, with the increasing densification of our cities, some believe these important spaces are being lost.

In some cases this may be true, with green spaces under attack in favour of high-rise developments and other more “financially viable” prospects. In reality, while this is happening, there is also a growing movement  to green our cities and many of our new highrise towers include landscape elements such  as a rooftop gardens or green walls.

This is also the case for education and care, where facilities are increasingly being housed in high-rise towers. Research shows that in both education and care facilities access to outdoor green spaces is crucial, improving mood, cognitive function and overall physical and mental health. While there is nothing like walking straight outside into nature, the benefits of landscaping can still be accessed in a vertical application – it just takes more creativity from the designer.

The relationship between children and nature is extremely important, says Paul Gardiner, director of Gardiner Architects. 

“Young children, particularly preschool age, are really eager to learn, to experience, to experiment," he says.

"The exposure to nature through landscaping is extremely valuable in their quest to understand the world.

“As architects, we are called upon to design buildings and outdoor spaces for children constrained by all the boring adult issues, like development cost, town planning restrictions and building issues. But we never lose sight of the child’s experience.”

A view of the outdoors, seeing the sky, being faced with a climbing challenge and being able to get dirty are just some of the important things for children, according to Gardiner.

“In terms of successful landscaped space, children like to be challenged, so they will climb over something rather than go around like an adult does,” he says.

“They like hiding, getting up high and feeling like they are in the highest treehouse in the jungle, their special place. Outdoor play spaces are best [when they are] non-prescriptive. An object does not need to be overdesigned, as children will use their imagination to invent whether they are flying a plane, on the back of a dragon, or just sitting on a log.”

It is still possible to incorporate all the characteristics of a good space in a high- rise tower – light and sun, access to green  space and indoor-outdoor spaces – it is just more challenging.

“The difficulty is that you might not be able to run straight outside like a school on the ground, so access is more controlled, like visiting the local sports oval or basketball court,” says Gardiner.

“The advantage is the sharing of facilities between school and communities and the urban placemaking that might ensue.

"We have done designs for several early learning centres in multi-storey office buildings and have come to the realisation that what is “indoor” and what is “outdoor” is really characterised by the type of activity: outside has topography, natural materials like logs and rocks, climbing, running and riding, as well as fresh air. So the natural experience can be simulated, but it’s not really the same as being outside and climbing a tree.”

Indoor-outdoor spaces are essential in  high-rise buildings designed for education and care applications.

Pergolas can be a good solution, allowing air flow and exposure to the outdoors while ensuring protection from the elements. Renson’s terrace coverings for example, have been designed for high wind-resistance. This makes them particularly suited to rooftop terraces, where winds are higher.

The company tested its terrace coverings in Florida’s most hurricane-sensitive coastal areas, where the Camargue terrace covering passed every test and received the ‘Miami Dade’ certificate.

The company also creates windproof screens with a wind-resistance of up to 60km/hr, with an optional wind sensor that closes the roof blades and pulls back the screens to prevent them from damage when the wind blows strongly. These are once again suitable for use on rooftop terraces and can be used on the sides of a terrace to ensure the safety of older people and children, and further protect them from the elements.

On the topic of safety, it is important to achieve a level transition between indoor and outdoor spaces, especially for children and the elderly. One product which can achieve this is Qwickbuild by Outdure. Efficient and lowrisk, this exterior flooring system can support hardwood or composite decking, exterior tiles and synthetic turf, creating a level plane between indoor and outdoor spaces.

It has been used in a number of education and care applications, such as RMIT Childcare Centre and Brandon Park Ryman Aged Care Facility. Specifically, Qwickbuild was used to support Outdure decking and turf, used in RMIT’s refurbished four-storey childcare complex with play areas on an external roof terrace and outdoor play area. In the case of the aged care centre, a 198sqm communal rooftop area required an ultra-low height solution to accommodate its multi-surface design. An additional three balconies were installed using Qwickbuild, which allowed safe transitions between surfaces while meeting strict compliance regulations.

While it’s important to consider what’s in the space, it’s equally important to define its boundaries and manage outsiders’ access to the space.

ModularWalls’ SlimWall is a good solution as it offers the durability and high-end aesthetic of a render-look finish, without the high cost of traditional rendered brick.

This product is particularly suited to education and care applications due to its fast installation, which significantly minimises disruption, and its ability withstand the rigours of play. It is also acoustically rated (delivering an average 20dB reduction), and at heights of up to 2.4m as well as a smooth wall face, it ensures no one can climb in or out of the space. 

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Pictured: Eltham North Playground by Gardiner Architects. Photography by Tess Kelly