Learning by doing

12/11/2015 5:00 PM CET

The courtyard of Skanska’s new regional office in Malmö, Sweden, is not only open and accessible to the public. It also contains a sensory garden which can serve as an outdoor classroom for local schoolchildren.

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Skanska Malmö's new regional office is called 'Klipporna' ('the Cliffs'). And with its steep inclines and sharp angles it actually looks as if hewn from a solid chunk of limestone. But that's not its only connection to nature. The entire project is a showcase for sustainable urban development with several new eco-friendly solutions and innovative use of materials. It even has beehives and birdhouses on the roofs in order to promote biodiversity.

And yet, it's in between the three white buildings where the real magic happens. Recognizing the fact that 'courtyards in office blocks tend to be boring at best and intimidating at worst', project leader Åsa Johansson and her colleagues decided to do something more useful for the local community.

A learning environment

The Klipporna courtyard will not close at 5 pm. Instead it will be a welcoming garden that links up with the adjacent Hyllie Station square. A place in tune with the local community where people can relax, wait for the bus or bring a cup of coffee. And while there, they will be able to enjoy the uplifting sight of school children learning. As it happens, the yard is designed as a sensory garden for science inspired lessons.

There are a number of schools in the vicinity of Klipporna that will use the garden as an outdoor classroom for different kinds of natural science projects.Skanska worked with local schools to understand which lessons are more difficult to teach in the classroom. Among other things, the children will be able to measure distances and angles, look at the effects of gravity and the sun's trajectory during the day, how different materials feel when hot, cold, wet and dry, how sound waves travel through a special tube construction and so on.

Local flora

The vegetation will be made up of plants found in the surrounding landscape and the children will be able to study how the different species change as they grow, bloom and wither. In isolation, the different installations are neither very complex nor expensive, but when put together like this, they provide the teachers with an environment conducive to learning.

Involvement from day one

Throughout the duration of the project, local school children were invited onto the building site to learn more about the construction industry – 'a source of inspiration and amusement for both the children and the Skanska personnel on site', according to Åsa Johansson.

When finished, the garden will take pride of place on Malmö's 'pedagogical map' – a digital system that shows teachers where to find places for outdoor lessons and school trips. The garden will have its official inauguration in spring.