Design of the school yard - Mare Nostrum school
In this Web Article, the upscaling plan of the Climate Shelters project of the City of Barcelona is presented. The plan reflects a vision, namely to consider the school yard as a school and thus move educational activities which traditionally take place in the school building, outdoors. At the same time, the school yards are transformed to Climate Shelters through green, blue and grey technical solutions which make them greener, naturalized,  shaded and with improved thermal comfort.

The Urban Innovation Actions (UIA) project “Climate Shelters”, namely the transformation of schools to Climate Shelters with the use of blue, green and grey technical solutions, was tested experimentally in the City of Barcelona at real urban scale. The testing phase following the completion of the 1st round of schools’ transformations (September 2020), verified the merit and impact of the applied innovative solutions towards climate change adaptation; it also demonstrated the importance of co-creation participatory processes with the school community at large.

A preliminary assessment of the implementation of the project to eleven schools was considered positive as 1,000 square metres of concrete were replaced with with vegetation, 74 trees have been planted, 2,213 square metres of shade generated and 26 new water supply points added. Furthermore preliminary findings from the evaluation of the project’s impact to the indoor and outdoor school environment, the well-being and health of the school community, also demonstrated the merit of the project. The above facts facilitated the early (as of summer 2021) upscaling of the project and its solutions.

In practical terms, the City of Barcelona upscaling plan integrates the Climate Shelters project to a wider program named “Let’s transform the school yards”. This program aims to transform a minimum of 10 schoolyards each year to reach three distinct, yet strongly interrelated, targets:

  • the physical spaces so as to become Climate Shelters and therefore greener, naturalized,  shaded and with improved thermal comfort both in the inner and outer school environment;
  • the dynamics and life experiences of children in the school yard to bring them closer to nature and to promote more relationships through the diversification of education, sport and play possibilities and activities; and
  • the opening of the school yards to the neighborhoods so that everybody can make use of them for activities.

Imagen que contiene DiagramaDescripción generada automáticamente

Source: Institut Infància i Adolescència de Barcelona

For the school year 2020-2021, the ten publicly operated schools included in the “Let’s transform the school yard” Program are:

the Escola Auró, the Escola Bogatell, the Escola de les Aigües, the Escola Duran i Bas, the Escola Francesc Macià, the Escola L’Estel, the Escola Palma de Mallorca, the Escola Parc de la Ciutadella, the Escola Pau Casals de Gràcia and the Escola Ramon Llull

Recognizing the connections

Further to the conversion of the school yards to Climate Shelters, an additional connection of the Climate Shelters project to the “Let’s transform the school yards” Program is that the latter must ensure contact with nature, greenery, land, sand and water and with the maximum of natural elements to green the space.

The vision is that the school yard is considered as a school and therefore it must be part of educational and pedagogical projects, for instance the ones applied in the course of the Climate Shelters project on climate change knowledge and awareness.

The physical transformation of spaces

In terms of the physical transformation of spaces, the co-creation participatory process as applied during the Climate Shelters project is replicated during the upscaling process. In particular, the school community (teachers, pupils and families) as well as the residents in the neighborhood express their needs and suggestions and contribute to the selection of the technical solutions for the schools’ transformations.

Physical transformation of the spaces will necessarily be different in each school; each plan takes into account the experience gained from the technical solutions already tested within the Climate Shelters project and the (feasible) needs that arise from the process of co-creation with each educational community. In all cases, there are four guidelines for the physical transformation of the school yards:

  • Plant trees and plants with a significant number to naturalize and increase the volume of greenery and the possibilities of contact with nature or natural elements.
  • Generate shade either with nature-based solutions or with structures (e.g. pergolas) to improve thermal comfort and adapt to climate change.
  • Expand the soft pavement spaces to gain permeable soil as a garden, always ensuring coexistence with uses for physical education and sports.
  • Incorporate game elements to maximize shared and versatile play, including natural materials and water fountains and games.

Some characteristic examples follow for the L’ Estel and Auro schools (Source: Barcelona Education Council – CEB). In Figures 1a and 2a, the design of the transformation of the schools’ yards is depicted, whereas in Figures 1b and 2b schools’ views are presented at the completion of the transformation works:

Figure 1. (a) Design of the school’s yard transformation (b) view of the school yard at the completion of transformation works.

Figure 2. (a) Design of the school’s yard transformation (b) view of the school yard at the completion of transformation works.

Criteria for the assessment of upscaling plans

An upscaling plan needs to comply with a set of criteria, which reflect the characteristics of the initial project and take note of the objectives of the upscaling plan.

Following, criteria for the assessment of upscaling plans are provided; for demonstration purposes, the criteria are exemplified for the Climate Shelters project.

Critetion 1. Does the upscaling process sustain the main philosophy of the project.

Despite the integration of the project to a Program with wider objectives, the main philosophy of the Climate Shelters project is preserved. Emphasis continues to be given to the selection of technical solutions for climate change adaptation at the school level, to participatory processes of co-creation with the school community at large (pupils, teachers and families) and to strong educational and pedagogical orientation in the field of climate change.

Criterion 2. What should be the next step of a project: a gradual or a generalized upscaling.

The City Council of Barcelona has decided to promote a gradual upscaling with the transformation of 10 schools per year. During 2021, work and reflection sessions were held to share knowledge and deepen the dynamics and educational potential of the school yards. In addition to discussions and exchanges open to all schools, the publication of equipment toolkits and guides for the school yards’ educational spaces (Source: Espais educatius exteriors, CEB) and for their transformations (Source: Annex IV.a.: Transformació d’espais exteriors, CEB), were also completed.

Source: Espais educatius exteriors, Barcelona Education Council.

Criterion 3. What evaluation criteria should be used to assess an upscaling plan.

Evaluation criteria are needed in order to assess environmental, socioeconomic, infrastructural, innovation, educational and other aspects of projects. In addition, they should be used to evaluate the motivation of the key players in projects.

In terms of the Climate Shelters project, the evaluation criteria refer to the selection of the new schools in the upscaling plan. Criteria correspond to six distinct categories:

Evaluation Criteria related to





  • Located in areas most vulnerable to climate change (above average)
  • Located in areas of higher pollution
  • Located in areas with a lower presence of urban greenery (below the Barcelona average)
  • Located in areas with a lower ratio m2 play area /child
  • Located in areas of greatest social vulnerability
  • Solar orientation of the school yard



Socio-economic complexity


  • Degree of socio-economic complexity in the school’s local community



School yard’s accessibility


  • Shared use (with houses, open courtyards, neighborhood)
  • Inputs and outputs that facilitate the connection inside and outside the school
  • Functional space adapted to the needs and abilities of all children
  • Space with the capacity to be used in compartments
  • Independent access to light and water from the school yard



School yard’s infrastructure


  • Proportion of the area with hard yard with respect to the total yard
  • Proportion of shade in the school yard
  • Lack of water points
  • Proportion of green in the school yard
  • Diversity of different areas of play
  • Permanent play structures or other equipment that offer playful diversity
  • Permanent game structures in poor condition
  • Quality of existing infrastructures (electricity, water, etc.)



Uses and dynamics in the school yards


  • Recognition of the value of play in outdoor education and learning
  • Work to promote good co-existence and fair play in the school yard
  • Involvement of the teaching staff in promoting student participation in decision making
  • Recognition of the school yard as a space to expand learning outside curricula
  • Part of the Schools + Sustainable program





  • Schools that implement environmental programs or projects
  • Schools in collaboration with Schools + Sustainable or other external entities
  • Schools that present developed programs or projects related to co-education, inclusion and shared use of the school yard with the community
  • Schools in the process of educational transformation



Criterion 4. Can the project have a greater impact on the long term.

The integration of the Climate Shelters project to the “Let’s transform the school yards” Program expands its impact as it links to a wider educational and social project with the vision that the school yard is also a school, whereas a steadily increasing number of participating schools is achieved.

Criterion 5. When should the upscaling process start.

The upscaling process needs to be initiated once the evaluation phase is fully completed or if preliminary results demonstrate a strong potential to be captured. In the case of the Climate Shelters project, the upscaling process started in the course of the project with the completion of the transformation for the 2nd round of schools in September 2021. It is expected that the completion of the evaluations with respect to environment, well-being and health, will support the fine tuning of the selection process.

Criterion 6. What are the additional or new challenges of deploying the project at a larger scale (e.g. personnel, skills, resources, etc.).

The upscaling of the project requires human and financial resources and a strong coordination mechanism. In terms of the financial recourses, the City Council of Barcelona has allocated an annual funding of roughly 3 million euros, thus allowing the inclusion of ten schools per year in the Program (source personal communication, 26.11.2021). As per the coordination needs, the experience of the Barcelona Education Council is considered an asset for the Program, although an enhancement of its personnel may be considered necessary. New skills are brought in the Program through the cooperation with Institut Infància i Adolescència de Barcelona and the Rosa Sensat Teachers Association.

Criterion 7. What should be the role of the partners be in the upscaling process.

The new partnership includes, further to the Barcelona City Council (the Municipal Education Council of Barcelona - CEMB) and the Barcelona Education Council (CEB), the Institut Infància i Adolescència de Barcelona and the Rosa Sensat Teachers Association. Each partner has well defined roles in order to avoid overlaps and ensure complementarities. Day to day coordination is undertaken by CEB, the Institut provides support in terms of the criteria for the transformation of school yards, whereas the Teachers Asscociation is responsible for the part of open debates in schools, the exchange of experiences and pedagogical orientations to promote the best potential of the Program.

A pending issue in the upscaling process of the Climate Shelters project, is to preserve the pertinent pillars of monitoring and evaluation, namely air quality monitoring, the assessment of the project’s performance against indicators and the evaluation of the impact of the transformations to environment, well-being and health.

Some concluding points

A strong legacy of the Climate Shelters project is recognized, while preserving the authenticity of the innovative UIA project.

The Climate Shelters project has gained momentum, whereas its sustainability is well preserved through its integration to the “Let’s transform the school yards” Program. In particular, the objective to transform schools to Climate Shelters in order to adapt to climate change, is linked to such objectives as to defend the importance of inclusive play and education outdoors for children’s well-being as well as to gain new neighborhood facilities for the benefit of local communities.

Finally, a strong message from the implementation of the Climate Shelters project by the City of Barcelona is that upscaling plans need to be worked out early enough prior to the completion of a project in order to capitalize momentum and exploit the experience gained.


Many thanks to the Barcelona Education Council for the provision of the designs and images of the school yards.

About this resource

Constantinos Cartalis
Barcelona, Spain
About UIA
Urban Innovative Actions

The Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) is a European Union initiative that provided funding to urban areas across Europe to test new and unproven solutions to urban challenges. The initiative had a total ERDF budget of €372 million for 2014-2020.

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