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Building the outdoor classroom

When we took on the challenge of the outdoor classroom, we knew we only had the half term week to construct it so we had to design it to be, as far as possible, pre-fabricated, while also meeting the brief and design approach that had developed through the workshops with the children.

We were intrigued by making a circular structure and the paraboloid ‘pringle’ roof out of timber, a material that naturally tends towards straight lines. We modelled the structure in 3D CAD as well as physical models, in order to calculate the angles of the supporting beams, and the notches that needed to be cut out of them to slot together. All the cross-beams and the perimeter beam were made off site in advance, and the thin tongue-and-groove boarding to form the curve was painted (by Hana and Tom’s children) before-hand as well. Our regular metal fabricator, Wesbroom, made the steel brackets.

Just as well, as we had terrible weather for almost the whole of the half-term week. Although it started well on the Friday after school ended, when our neighbour and digger driver came to excavate for the foundations, we had plenty of rain causing problems for the concrete pouring and the blockwork that would form the curved enclosure, supporting the steel poles and retaining the earth mound into which the structure was embedded as the children had wished.

Although wrestling with tarpaulins and gazebos to keep everything dry, we got the timber structure up without a hitch – all the angles fitting perfectly. The timber boarding went on easily and then it was a matter for a boat-building friend to help us with the GRP finish, while the rest of us made the bench seat around the inside, and clad the blockwork with black-stained timber. Not quite all done in the week – hence having some young visitors keeping an eye on us as we finished off the next weekend – but all done in time for the school’s summer fete and ribbon cutting!