Expert article
Modifier 09 December 2021
by Constantinos Cartalis

Upscaling with a vision - The school yard as a school

Design of the school yard - Mare Nostrum school
In this Web Article, the upscaling plan of the Climate Shelters project of the City of Barcelona is presented. The plan reflects a vision, namely to consider the school yard as a school and thus move educational activities which traditionally take place in the school building, outdoors. At the same time, the school yards are transformed to Climate Shelters through green, blue and grey technical solutions which make them greener, naturalized,  shaded and with improved thermal comfort.

The Urban Innovation Actions (UIA) project “Climate Shelters”, namely the transformation of schools to Climate Shelters with the use of blue, green and grey technical solutions, was tested experimentally in the City of Barcelona at real urban scale. The testing phase following the completion of the 1st round of schools’ transformations (September 2020), verified the merit and impact of the applied innovative solutions towards climate change adaptation; it also demonstrated the importance of co-creation participatory processes with the school community at large.


A preliminary assessment of the implementation of the project to eleven schools was considered positive as 1,000 square metres of concrete were replaced with with vegetation, 74 trees have been planted, 2,213 square metres of shade generated and 26 new water supply points added. Furthermore preliminary findings from the evaluation of the project’s impact to the indoor and outdoor school environment, the well-being and health of the school community, also demonstrated the merit of the project. The above facts facilitated the early (as of summer 2021) upscaling of the project and its solutions.

In practical terms, the City of Barcelona upscaling plan integrates the Climate Shelters project to a wider program named “Let’s transform the school yards”. This program aims to transform a minimum of 10 schoolyards each year to reach three distinct, yet strongly interrelated, targets:

  • the physical spaces so as to become Climate Shelters and therefore greener, naturalized,  shaded and with improved thermal comfort both in the inner and outer school environment;
  • the dynamics and life experiences of children in the school yard to bring them closer to nature and to promote more relationships through the diversification of education, sport and play possibilities and activities; and
  • the opening of the school yards to the neighborhoods so that everybody can make use of them for activities.

Imagen que contiene Diagrama

Descripción generada automáticamente

Source: Institut Infància i Adolescència de Barcelona

For the school year 2020-2021, the ten publicly operated schools included in the “Let’s transform the school yard” Program are:

the Escola Auró, the Escola Bogatell, the Escola de les Aigües, the Escola Duran i Bas, the Escola Francesc Macià, the Escola L’Estel, the Escola Palma de Mallorca, the Escola Parc de la Ciutadella, the Escola Pau Casals de Gràcia and the Escola Ramon Llull

Recognizing the connections

Further to the conversion of the school yards to Climate Shelters, an additional connection of the Climate Shelters project to the “Let’s transform the school yards” Program is that the latter must ensure contact with nature, greenery, land, sand and water and with the maximum of natural elements to green the space.

The vision is that the school yard is considered as a school and therefore it must be part of educational and pedagogical projects, for instance the ones applied in the course of the Climate Shelters project on climate change knowledge and awareness.

The physical transformation of spaces

In terms of the physical transformation of spaces, the co-creation participatory process as applied during the Climate Shelters project is replicated during the upscaling process. In particular, the school community (teachers, pupils and families) as well as the residents in the neighborhood express their needs and suggestions and contribute to the selection of the technical solutions for the schools’ transformations.

Physical transformation of the spaces will necessarily be different in each school; each plan takes into account the experience gained from the technical solutions already tested within the Climate Shelters project and the (feasible) needs that arise from the process of co-creation with each educational community. In all cases, there are four guidelines for the physical transformation of the school yards:

  • Plant trees and plants with a significant number to naturalize and increase the volume of greenery and the possibilities of contact with nature or natural elements.
  • Generate shade either with nature-based solutions or with structures (e.g. pergolas) to improve thermal comfort and adapt to climate change.
  • Expand the soft pavement spaces to gain permeable soil as a garden, always ensuring coexistence with uses for physical education and sports.
  • Incorporate game elements to maximize shared and versatile play, including natural materials and water fountains and games.

Some characteristic examples follow for the L’ Estel and Auro schools (Source: Barcelona Education Council – CEB). In Figures 1a and 2a, the design of the transformation of the schools’ yards is depicted, whereas in Figures 1b and 2b schools’ views are presented at the completion of the transformation works: