Timmons Group’s Landscape Architecture team transformed an underutilized central courtyard at Greer Elementary School into a 21st-century classroom for outdoor learning. Inspired by David Thornburg’s theory on archetypal learning spaces, the design incorporates elements of the campfire, watering hole and cave settings, which foster formal group learning, informal gathering and interaction, and private, individualized study, respectively. A small amphitheater supports structured outdoor classes (“the campfire”), while customized sails in the school’s colors create shady spots and delineate small-scale learning spaces for individual study and reflection (“the cave”). A boardwalk and paths traverse the site, from which students can observe and study native plants and wildlife within the school grounds.
Students can grow food in raised planters and use the gardens to conduct botanical experiments on plant growth and pollination (“the watering hole”). Flow-through planters and rain barrels capture stormwater and mitigate runoff, incorporating sustainable practices into the design and educational programming. Together, these elements form an inviting spaces that foster children’s interaction with nature. The Courtyard offers a wealth of learning opportunities that correspond with the state’s Standards of Learning and reimagine the boundaries of classroom education in public schools.