Halvorsen Architects was recently commissioned to design a forest school nursery, which will have a ‘playful’ natural water-treatment system at its heart. While we have done several ecological nursery buildings, this is our first forest school nursery. Possibly worryingly, I find it easy to put myself in the mind of a five-year-old, especially when playing with water, in mud or over trees!
Kids Ahoy Childcare asked us to design their new outdoor nursery in Dumfries, on a beautiful site surrounded by shrubland and woodland. There will be a series of small buildings housing an indoor classroom, staffroom, toilets and cloakrooms. Some of these will be housed in existing timber pods and some in new, purpose-built timber-framed buildings.
Wherever possible, Halvorsen Architects intends to use natural materials, and will completely avoid the use of concrete, which has been described as the most destructive material on Earth. The foundations will be made of recycled tyres filled with hard-core and the insulation will be sheep’s wool and wood fibre board
The most exciting aspect of the forest school project for me is the design of a natural water treatment system that is to become the central feature of the children’s playground. We are working alongside Jane and David Shields of Living Water Ecosystems Ltd. (who recently spoke at a SEDA Land conference I organised: Imagining Bioproducts). All the surface and foul water will flow through a series of filters, starting with straw-bales for solids (for basins and sinks only), through a reed-bed system, and finally through a willow copse from where it will run clear into the neighbour’s large pond. We are lucky that the neighbour, who runs an outdoor nature-based centre, is similarly ecologically minded!
Instead of piping this water underground there will be a free-formed rill running across the site. It will collect water from the steep banks above the nursery where it will start with a small cascade and then meander across the site, past a sand play area and into the reed bed.
This will both be an educational tool for the children – raising awareness of the ecological disbursement of water and the physics behind water flow – as well as a fun place to play, get muddy and wet in.
Living Water Ecosystems, based in Fife, has developed techniques for attenuating and treating contaminated surface water, effluent and wastes and are one of the few companies doing this using natural systems on a large scale in the UK. They treat both waste with high organic loading (from distilleries, breweries, wineries and farms) and with complex petrochemicals (from oil terminals, highway depots, landfills and factories). They have developed composting processes that transform highly concentrated hydrocarbon waste, sludges and contaminated soil into a valuable commodity – compost.
Unfortunately we are not able to use compost toilets as Dumfries and Galloway Council will not allow it. Extraordinary! So we will be installing a septic tank but at least a soak away can be replaced by the natural treatment system.