No barriers between inside and outside – an old idea for nature inclusive design with new relevance?

Plein Air school in Suresnes, France

Architect, real estate developer and sustainability expert at the Ryerson School of Interior Design Lloyd Alter draws a parallel in his April 2020 blog between today’s corona crisis and the beginning of the 20th century when children were sent out into schools in the open air because of the risk of tuberculosis. Alter says there is a similar situation now: kids need fresh air and sunlight, but also a bit of separation. What if we re-adopt these ideas, learn from the past and reinterpret them today?

In 1904 in Germany the first ‘Waldschule’ opened. Later famously the Plein Air school in Suresnes (Beaudouin and Lods), and of course the Openairschool in Amsterdam (Duiker) 1927. Teaching in nature was to believed “to help build independence and self-esteem in urban youths” and even an International Bureau of Open Air Schools was set up.

Can the past downsides – high maintenance and an educational climate that demanded control and avoided distraction – be ovecome? What if the principles were for example rethought for homes for the elderly? Visiting granny with no barrieres between inside and outside makes a 1,5 m social distance a burden that can be overcome.