Naturescapes as Natural Outdoor Learning Classrooms 2023- Paul Barnett Design Group

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Garden City & Urban Forest Campus
2023 Natural Outdoor Learning Classrooms




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Paul Barnett Design Group (PBDG) is a multi-award winning architecture firm based in Canberra. Offering a full range of Architecture and Project Management services, PBDG has over 20 years experience in the industry, delivering a diverse range of projects to Canberra and regional NSW. Our Company Philosophy embraces environmental design, which is strongly underpinned by a commitment to quality management systems. We create beautiful buildings and environments and engage with master builders and craftspeople. Our services are solution based and above all else, we listen.

What we do is about what we believe. Our individually crafted sustainable regenerative habitats are designed to stimulate and nourish. We are inspired by nature's organic patterns and geometric shapes to create environments that cater for whole life cycles. With certification and awards in PassivHaus, Green Star and the Living Building Challenge, PBDG uses intelligent systems to create highly durable yet low maintenance buildings and landscapes for Education and Private sectors.

We help by guiding you through the design process and cover services such as feasibility, masterplanning, construction and project management. The firm promotes Artisanship in all Building Trades, particularly in Brickwork, Timber, Glass and Steel. Rather than working alone, we collaborate with local Artists, Artisans and Trades people, allowing us to develop and create beautiful and enduring buildings and landscapes.


2022 Demonstration School: Australia Ecological Campus Educational Experimental Demonstration School - Australia Contemporary Learning Spaces: St Thomas Aquinas ELC Naturescape

2021 WINNER:

MBA Master Builders Awards Commercial Refurbishment of less than $1 Million: Blue Gum Preschool Dickson

MBA Asset Construction Excellence Awards: Blue Gum Preschool Dickson

2020 Demonstration School: Australia Ecological Campus Educational Experimental Demonstration School - Australia Contemporary Learning Spaces: Blue Gum School Hackett

2019 WINNER: MBA Sustainable House of the Year: Hackett Gardens

RAIA President's Award: Outstanding Contribution to Architecture

2017 WINNER:

MCA Excellence in Brick and Block Awards: Overall Winner Commercial and Public Buildings - Brickwork Daramalan Dempsey Building

2015 WINNER:

HIA-CSR ACT/SNSW Housing Awards: GreenSmart Energy Efficiency Home of the Year for Carwoola House

2015 WINNER:

HIA-CSR ACT/SNSW Housing Awards: Custom Built Home $500,001 - $700,000 for Carwoola House

2014 WINNER: MBA Commercial Buildings less than $5,000,000: Daramalan College Lysaught Building

2013 WINNER:

RAIA Education Prize: St Joseph's Early Childhood Learning Centre

2012 WINNER: MBA Commercial Buildings less than $5,000,000: St Joseph's Early Childhood Learning Centre

2011 WINNER: BER RAIA Education Prize: St Thomas Kambah Primary School

Ecological Campus Planning

PBDG is entrusted by the Australian Department of Education to carry out the planning and design of ecological campuses in Canberra.

St Thomas Aquinas ELC Naturescape,Charnwood ACT

Maribyrnong Primary School, Kaleen ACT

Macquarie Primary Native Micro Forest, Macquarie ACT

Giralang Primary School, Giralang ACT

Blue Gum Dickson Campus Preschool, Dickson ACT

Blue Gum Front Yard Playscape, Hackett ACT

Majura Primary School, Watson ACT

Maribyrnong Naturescape, a renovation project with a five year

renewal plan involving the largest ecological campus in the ACT

Blue Gum Primary & Secondary Schools, Hackett ACT

Ainslie Primary School, Braddon ACT

North Ainslie Primary School, Ainslie ACT

Aranda Primary School Nature Path, Aranda ACT

Aranda Primary School Adventure Garden, Aranda ACT

Majura Primary School Naturescape, Watson ACT

Blue Gum Preschool, Hackett ACT

Daramalan CollegeAranda Primary School, Dickson ACT

St Jude’s Early Childhood Learning Centre, Holder ACT

Oranda Steiner School, Master Plan of Whole Campus

2022 2021 2020 2019 2017 2016 2015 2009 1998

Garden City & Urban Forest Campus

Contents Blue Gum Community School Hackett Campus Dickson Campus Aranda Primary School Majura Primary School Daramalan College Saint Jude's Primary School Maribyrnong Primary School St Thomas Aquinas ELC 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 1 14 20 24 28 34 38


PBDG’s designs have focused on mimicking the natural environment to regenerate nature with thriving plantations and transform various dry and unappealing spaces into sustainable playscapes. The designs allow for collaboration and social interaction, encouraging children and educators to build a sense of community within these spaces.

During the early stages of design consultation, many important elements were considered and incorporated into the plan;

1. For existing natural elements such as trees, hills, and wet areas to be protected and retained

2. To be able to demonstrate the natural flow of seasons

3. To reflect the local area and context

4. To provide for different types of play, such as fast/slow, active/ quiet, and social/individual play

5. Have open-ended spaces for creative play without dictation of use

6. Support sustainability, ongoing maintenance, and longevity of the space

1 01

Hackett Blue Gum Preschool

Front Yard Playscape, Hackett Blue Gum Preschool

Address: Hackett ACT

Property Owner: Blue Gum Community School

Total Area: 180 m² , 210 m²

Total Budget: $102,000 , $76,000

Construction: 12 weeks,

Date Start: 2021 , 2016

Front Yard Playscape

Children of Blue Gum school learn in a 60-year-old school building, and play in two spaces of different levels, separated by a low brick wall.

The idea was to break the wall, join these two play spaces, and create an amphitheatre that can seamlessly connect the two levels. The slide installed further down the wall with various tiered stone terraces and garden beds acts as another journey between the internal and external habitats. When children arrive at school, they can interact with the various sporting activities provided by educators on the grass space outside of the wall.

Outdoor amphitheater arranged with a strata of rocks and stones.
New respected
By creating a circular outdoor amphitheater space and adding

Then they would make their way into the school by taking the steps down the amphitheatre or by using the slide as an active entry. In the internal low-level spaces, an easily climbable terrace garden wall surrounds a sandstone sandpit, which was placed between the climbing structure and amphitheatre.

Educators had observed how children loved to climb over the brick wall and play in the open space beyond, where there was lush green grass and bushes lined against the road.

adding a slippery slide, the internal and external fields of different heights are connected. The slide is a connecting path to the other side, and the stones are used as steps to cross over the boundary. New landscape design is embedded into the highly respected original site relics.

To encourage growth of new plantings done as part of the kindergarten garden work and to feed water to existing trees, a small amount of waterharvesting was done in the lower-level space.

All of these elements of design encapsulate the two spaces and levels, integrate the old and the new, and enriches the natural environment for childhood experiences in the Front Yard Playscape.

Rocks that soften the transition from nature to building. Passive Building Design. Respect the existing trees in the environment. Retain the existing walls and connect the spaces with stone steps. Create a micro - forest, so children can have a learning experience within nature.

Pre-School Naturescape

The original south western corner of this 2 story building really needed a new preschool extension that could integrate with a two tier naturescape, creating an easily accessible journey for children to wander in between indoor and outdoor spaces.

The new extension was designed to hug the existing building, and create warm winter sun access for Canberra’s cold climate through the long windows. Two cam shaped window seats face the naturescape.

Bi-fold doors

Natural materials, organic shapes, solar passive and passive house systems allows their environmental focus to be expressed in a sustainable building and natural organic environment.

Cam shaped window seats Long windows that can introduce natural light and is in compliance with building codes. You can enjoy the natural landscape while sitting in the two cam-shaped window seats. The design of the door combines geometric shapes with the concept of Bi-fold doors.

At the highest point of the naturescape is a large oak tree that has been on the site for over 60 years. The rest of the landscape wraps around the new building and rises up to meet this tree.

In the neighbouring community parkland scape, water is captured in the large catchment area and then directed through various habitats in the preschool naturescape to sustain growth of plantations. A myriad of natural habitats gradually roll down from the higher level of the site, and are perfect places for children to play on and in.

Rock boulder steps where children can hop and climb over the curved, tiered surface. Stone steps design. Natural shaded sandpit and log bridge.

After navigating up the winding connecting stone steps and platforms on the amphitheatre, they can choose to do a dramatic play with plants around the entry garden and veggie patches, or to dig in the dirt and construct their own habitats out of branches and old building materials in the stormwater inlet pits. They can construct and create in the sandpit under the enormous shade of the oak tree, or navigate across the smooth log bridge between the two pits.

When there is enough rainfall, the moist frog bog wetland amongst the swirling mounds make for an excellent investigation site. They can move down the hill by running, jumping and climbing on the interlocking zigzag logs that directs water downhill towards the dry creek bed.

Logs in a Zig-Zag pattern for directing water downhill. Water trench system with mounds and valleys. The children can observe the flow of water in the dry creek beds when there is enough rainfall.

Dickson Blue Gum Preschool

Address: Dickson ACT

Property Owner: Blue Gum Community School

Total Area: 150 m²

Total Budget: $64,000

Construction: 6 weeks

Date Start: 2021

Who could have imagined that this preschool exhibit room extension and stunning courtyard used to be a staff car park and bin area?

Metal artwork made from metal tubes of different sizes. When the sun shines through the metal tubes into the courtyard, space with little speckles of sunlight. Large moon window

To the left of the gate is a large moon window with metal pipes of different sizes, cut to the same length, hand-sanded to prevent injuries, and connected together to create a gorgeous spotlight when the sun hits it at the right angle. Both these metalwork pieces were co-designed by Blue Gum and PBDG and then were crafted by an artist metalworker.

This space also has water trenches and stormwater inlet points, a stone pathway, and some big boulders sourced locally from Queanbeyan.

Principal of Blue Gum school, Maureen Hartung, believes that these playspaces can give students a magical childhood by providing mystery, inspiration, and places to hide.

This project was one that brought great pride and excitement to everyone involved, and may have even invited a new generation into the construction industry.

Interestingly shaped windows

courtyard, warming up the little The existing tree is protected, and artworks and material are brought in to decorate the space.

The window design can improve the problem of direct sunlight, and can also maintain a certain degree of visibility on the public

Along the public pathway is a zigzag wall, with windows on the northern faces, and brick on the west facing sides. This unique design is to minimize the western sun from entering the building, to maintain visibility on the pathway, and allow secret lookouts for children to peer out at the world from.

Lavender, rosemary, and grass trees are planted in the garden beds, over a water trench dug towards the creek bed at the corner of the property. This was done to mitigate the overflowing roof gutter, and make use of the additional rain in the waterharvesting system.

footpath. To match the aesthetic of the roof on the new building, the old roof of the original building was removed and replaced with a slanted one.

Further down the path along with the building, a magnificent metal gate on a central spindle greets you at the entrance of the courtyard and opens to reveal a cozy multipurpose space.

Educators wanted a children's art space for practicing visual and performing arts, as well as a space for professional learning with adults.


Artistic metal gate at the entrance of the courtyard.

Educators of Blue Gum once again invited PBDG to beautify their preschool space and build an extension to the existing building.

The garden at the preschool’s entrance has a water harvesting trench underneath the whole stone pathway, with stormwater inlet points at either end.

The pipe along the edge of the slanted roof catches all the rainwater and drops into the stormwater creek beds.

A small window sill to sit and watch the outdoors in. Waterharvesting systems with stormwater inlets are at the entrance of the kindergarten.

From the landings, the path of stones directs water away from the building entrances by sloping towards the creek beds. When the creek beds overflow, the trenches are filled up, feeding the various shrubs in the garden.

Stone materials are used at the entrance to form a consistent design. Stone pathway Big boulders


Aranda Primary School

Address: Aranda ACT 2614

Property Owner: Aranda Primary School

Total Area: 910 m² , 1000 m²

Total Budget: $68,000 , $129,000

Construction: 7 weeks , 12 weeks

Date Start: 2017 , 2016

Aranda Nature Path

After having to cut some large unsafe gumtrees down in 2013, Aranda Primary school consulted PBDG about their concerns. The uninviting concrete and asphalt wasteland leftover was in dire need of rejuvenation, and the school wanted to use water efficiently to prevent stormwater from running off to the bottom corner of the grounds. The existing barren, dry and hard landscape was often exposed to weather extremes, and was devoid of natural vibrancy, so a master plan was set to tackle all of these issues.

Running in between the library and the transportable classroom, a nature path, and a natural dry creek bed with planting beds focusing on Indigenous bush tucker was constructed.

Aranda Nature Path , Aranda Adventure Garden

After removing the original cement pavement, children can get closer to and easily interact with nature.

The seasonal changes of the trees and plants give this natural trail a unique visual experience.


Yarning circles (or dialogue circles) are an important way of communicating for Aboriginal People and emphasize harmony, creativity, and collaboration. Classes and groups are able to meet here to converse, reflect, and understand each other and the world.

Next to the path across from the creek bed is a yarning circle, made of small tree trunk stools surrounding a large rock. Children can run over the small bridge over the dry creek bed, and climb on the big rocks that line the pathway.

Aranda’s curriculum has a strong focus on sustainability and natural sciences, so the students benefit from having this dynamic natural outdoor learning environment.

Their learning experience is also additionally enhanced from engaging with the design and construction process, and from seeing a living, growing example of water conservation and sustainable practices.

Trees can provide adequate shade for outdoor activities and have a natural cooling effect for cities. Some small game facilities and artwork pieces are added to accommodate different interests.

Adventure Garden

Firstly, the concrete site had to be demolished, and the terraces and water harvesting trenches had to be prepared. Journeys were created by laying out paths and steps using rocks, soil, or sand, and Habitats were later filled in with logs, trees, shrubs, and more stones.

The adjacent school roof spaces are ideal areas to harvest water, and they work alongside the 2 large water harvesting trenches and inlet sumps to nurture the earth.

After 1
After 2
Before 1
Before 2

The trenches hold water for substantial periods of time so root systems can establish in the trenches. 100 tonne of rocks and more than $15k of trees and ground cover were planted, laying the foundations for a place of natural beauty in the near future.

This project of creating a natural oasis for children was hugely supported by the whole school community, and most of the money to cover costs like construction and materials was raised by the school.

Using rocks to create different levels and terraces gives children the feeling of playing in a miniature forest.


Majura Primary School


Address: Watson ACT

Property Owner: Majura Primary School

Total Area: Stage 1 = 2260 m²

Following stages 2 - 5 = Within 200 m²

Total Budget: Stage 1 = $87,000

Following stages 2 - 5 = Each between $15,000 - $20,000

Construction: Stage 1 = 12 weeks

Following stages 2 - 5 = Each between 3 - 4 weeks

Date Start: 2016

Just like many other large ovals in Canberra, drought and the dry climate reduce the sports field to a dust bowl. Any grass seeds sown in the compact soil are quickly swept away by stormwater runoff or trampled by children running around.

This problem had troubled Majura Primary in multiple areas of their school for a long time, so they partnered with PBDG in hopes that they could work their magic and transform the 60 x 60 meter site into another natural, sustainable educational play area.

The land needed to be stabilised by dramatically increasing its ability to hold water, so the whole landscape is designed with a system that operates alongside the invisible foundations below the ground. Across 3 terraces, 7 mounds are sculpted with 1000 m2 of soil, and 180 lineal meters of water harvesting trenches in the swales hold all the runoff water. The holding capacity of water catchment is now 100 000 liters, and with this increased moisture content of the soil, the roots of trees can penetrate deeply into the soil and grow 3 times the normal rate of growth.


Majura Primary Naturescapes Before and After

The swales are part of the waterharvesting system which enhances soil moisture and allows trees to quickly mature and create a canopy, becoming a miniature forest and a children’s play space.


Different natural materials such as rocks, boulders, sand, gravel, and logs are placed randomly across the naturescape, and the topographical features are unique in each habitat.


Before Construction

With the completion of all stages of the naturescape, future generations of students will be able to learn and play in a natural biome created with 12 tree logs, 137 trees, and wetland shrubs, 3 bridges, 200 tonnes of rock, and increased natural biodiversity.

Despite the project being only halfway through its stages, visitors will see a frenzy of exuberant little red dwarves darting in and out of swales and losing themselves in the landscape.



Daramalan College Courtyard

Address: Dickson ACT

Property Owner: Daramalan College

Total Area: 1220 m²

Total Budget: $287,000

Construction: 16 weeks

Date Start: 2015

Daramalan College has done many building projects with PBDG, so their site has many unique elements that add personality and charm to traditional buildings and landscapes. For example Showing a range of automotive symbology in brick and steel, as well as memorabilia with salvaged bricks from the old building.

The internal courtyard is very spacious, with two gates at either end to allow emergency services and other large vehicles into the area. The rest of the design of the courtyard follows this principle by decorating the concrete with little pockets of grass, trees, plants, and concrete benches.

When the deciduous trees mature, the full foliage in the summer will allow students to relax in the shade, and the shedding of trees will let the winter sun warm the students amid the vibrant fallen leaves.



Interestingly shaped windows and glassworks can be seen around the buildings, incorporating circles, ovals, and crosses between the rectilinear windows. The color of bricks chosen is pleasurable to the eye, as they are not all monochromatic, and complement the surrounding nature and landscape.

On the walls of some buildings are very eye-catching pieces of sculptured metalwork that secretly hide some less attractive heat recovery ventilation fans.

The red, brown and white colour palette is the common design theme of the building, and different walls incorporate a variety of geometric windows.

Architectural style that combines solar passive energy-saving buildings with sustainable design.

Using different types of bricks to customise the main building’s structure.

This metalwork art installation cleverly hides the machines behind it that will affect the visual aesthetic of the building.



Saint Jude's Primary School

Address: Holder ACT

Property Owner: Saint Jude’s ECLC

Total Area: 850 m²

Total Budget: $65,000

Construction: 12 weeks

Date Start: 2009

Transportable Classroom Naturescape

Like many other schools in Canberra, St Jude’s responded to growing student populations and insufficient learning spaces by investing in a transportable classroom. However, unlike many other schools, they planned for a beautiful landscape to integrate the building with the rest of the campus.

A long pathway leads from the main building and playground to the transportable, with a bridge joining the concrete path with the wooden deck.

A dry creek bed winds itself around the side of the transportable and under the bridge until it ends up at the tiered stone amphitheatre. The water harvesting system below the creek bed has escalated the growth of deciduous trees and native ground cover, prompting greenery to sprout up around the different sized rocks scattered across the hill.


After consulting with a local aboriginal elder, clusters of memorial poles were placed beside the path outside the transportable classroom. The purpose of these aboriginal memorial poles was to be used during burial ceremonies to guide and ensure the spirit had a safe arrival home, but these poles were designed by the elders to symbolise a crossing of cultures.

The transportable itself has a unique design, with colourful decorative circles matching the colours in the landscape.

Early Childhood Learning Centre

It is impossible to miss the beautiful building of Saint Jude’s Early Childhood Learning Centre. The solar passive building boasts exquisite design in the brickwork, double glazing glass in unconventionally shaped windows, and a water harvested landscape, all elements customary of PBDG design.

Multicoloured bricks are not only laid in patterns to create special artworks that stand out on all 4 sides of the building, but some are also accentuated to produce a dynamic texture in the walls. Rather than using sharp corners on the building, another interesting creative choice was made in smoothing over the corners using curves and rounded edges.

At the back in the outdoor playground, the land slopes downwards away from the building, so 2 sets of steps nestled between large rocks assist with movement between the higher and lower terraces.

Design features such as colourful bricks, stained glass and a landscape that encourages active outdoor play inspire children's learning and development.

The front of the school also features a path lined with bricks carved with student’s families' names, a pretty bench, and a small community street library.

This naturescape has 4 major habitats, with trees, shrubs and rocks planted in fluidly-round shaped garden beds dispersed across the area.

The first habitat is the landing between the entrance of the building and the rest of the playground, where children can engage in coordinated activities with educators. A large sandpit sits on one of the far sides under a shade sail, while the second, smaller sandpit occupies the centre habitat. Students can play in the wooden cubby or on the various rocks and logs under the shade of the mature trees.

The fourth habitat is a sloped grassy plain that features a concrete pipe centrepiece, and a vine corridor partly encircling the space. Within 7 years, the landscape has had a huge transformation because of the accelerated growth of trees from the invisible water harvesting system underground.

A large gum tree was preserved and continues to stand in between the two buildings. PBDG’s philosophy of enhancing sustainability, social wellbeing, and the connection between nature and the built environment is exemplified in each of their projects, bringing joy to today's communities , and hope for future generations.

Bricks carved with student’s families' names. The existing big trees are preserved and integrated with the whole space.

Large grassy lawns with hills allow children to run and play freely on the campus.

Trees provide enough shade for outdoor games and activities.

Each habitat incorporates different natural play elements.



Maribyrnong Primary School

Pre-School, Winyu Naturescape

Address: Kaleen ACT

Property Owner: Maribyrnong Primary School

Total Area: 820 m² , 1000 m²

Total Budget: $20,000 , $95,000

Construction: 10 weeks , 8 weeks

Date Start: 2020 , 2022

35 Winyu Naturescape

Pre-School Playground

Stage 2 Yarning Circle Stage 1 Pre-school Naturescape


St Thomas Aquinas Early Learning Centre

Address: Charnwood, ACT

Property Owner: St Thomas Aquinas ELC

Total Area: 1010 m²

Total Budget: $216,000

Construction: 15 weeks

Date Start: 2022


Before Construction

Landscape and Architectural Design by Produced by Paul Barnett Design Group CSED S tudio Video


Phone: (02) 6213 5555



Address: 2/15 Sargood St O’Connor ACT 2602

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