STUDENTS of University of Technology (UTech)'s Caribbean School of Architecture presented their conceptual design for an interactive playground and garden for the School for Therapy Education and Parenting of Children with Multiple Disabilities (STEP) Centre on January 24. The function was hosted by the Jamaica Institute of Architects at the PCJ Auditorium in New Kingston.
Established in 1994, the STEP Centre has been operating out of the St Margaret's Church Hall in Liguanea. However, the Hall could not adequately accommodate the students, many of whom have complex learning and developmental challenges. These include cerebral palsy, global developmental delay and various genetic syndromes.
The STEP Centre is currently one of the few facilities in Jamaica that offers physical, art, speech, and language therapy as part of its daily curriculum.
The new STEP Centre building is designed by renowned architect Douglas Stiebel.
However, the playground and garden project is being supervised by visiting lecturer Mark Martin who has previously taught at the Graduate School of Design at Florida International University in Miami.
He is also the president of Gardenism, a private design practice. Martin currently lectures at UTech's Caribbean School of Architecture teaching a course titled Introduction to Landscape Architecture.
As part of this course, students are engaged in a real-life project where they can use the knowledge and techniques learned. Martin's class was chosen to design an interactive, user-friendly, educational play area and garden for STEP because the project goes beyond typical architecture to include the design of outdoor environments.
"We were very pleased when it was enthusiastically endorsed by Mark Martin and his class," noted Hilary Sherlock, principal of STEP. "The design options the students developed exceeded my expectations and I know that there is something for each of our children to enjoy. For our school community we regard it as recognition of our very special children and their need for creative, functional and beautiful spaces."
According to Martin, the most important part of the design is the flooring. It must be both soft to protect against falls and non-toxic. The flooring must be able to withstand being outdoors without getting mold.
While describing the aesthetics of the play area, Martin further said that there will be a two-wheelchair carousel that is operated by hand. There will also be an interactive floor that resembles a piano and makes sounds when touched as well as walls that hold plants and herbs.
There will be a train that holds the wheelchairs and moves and make sounds like a choo choo train. A short tunnel depicting the stars and heavens will also be a part of this interactive play area for the students of the STEP Centre.
The new school will be located on Tremaine Road in Kingston and will be able to comfortably accommodate up to 30 students.