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Nils Norman - Begbrook Primary School

As part of the Primary Capital Programme series of art commissions, artist Nils Norman will develop an art work for Begbrook Primary School, Stapleton, Bristol.


For Begbrook Primary, Nils is developing a play-themed pavilion for a green plot situated in the school grounds. As a starting point for the commission, the artist and Arnolfini established a ‘design & research team’ drawn from school pupils who were tasked with interviewing their co pupils about their playground and design, including what games children liked to play. Norman then organised a workshop attended by pupils from across the school, to discuss the design and research team finds, examine types of play, and how existing structures and landscaping features are currently used. Nils' workshop began with a brief presentation on the artist's ongoing research into playgrounds from around the world and progressed to a model making workshop where the children and artist worked together to make ideas in 3D using scrap material. Largely designed to bring out the children’s ideas and thoughts the workshop furnished Nils with key ideas and words to inform the design.

Key in this process has been a desire to achieve a design that ‘activates’ the popular keywords and aspirations provided by the pupils. Formally, the pavilion structure will be a free-standing pergola made of timber and raised from the ground like a stage. A number of arms and walkways will radiate from the structure to create variations in height and with places to play and sit in groups or alone, which can also be adapted to create dens or smaller spaces underneath them. The structure will also include areas that can be painted with blackboard paint where pupils can draw and leave messages. The setting will feature a circular landscape design. Radiating out from the structure will be rings of reinforced turf mats to prevent damage to the grass and to create a visual focus for the structure. A bird nesting box will be placed on the roof along with a form cut from sheets of coloured plywood.

Nils Norman:

Nils Norman is an artist working across the disciplines of public art, architecture and urban planning. His projects challenge notions of the function of public art and the efficacy of mainstream urban planning and large-scale regeneration. Informed by local politics and ideas on alternative economic, ecological systems and play, Norman’s work merges utopian alternatives with current urban design to create a humorous critique of the discrete histories and functions of public art and urban planning. 

Nils’ research and work with playscapes, creative play structures, adventure playgrounds and risk in play has been an ongoing project for the past 10 years. He has published on the history and design of adventure playgrounds and lectured extensively in Europe and North America on playscape design. In 2009 he completed a series of sculptural interventions commissioned by the Golden Lane Campus, a new school built in the Barbican area of London, in dialogue with the school’s pupils and staff and in 2006 he completed an 80m long pedestrian bridge for a city in Denmark that incorporated a small playground into its design.

In 2004 he published a survey of London’s Adventure Playgrounds and has worked closely with the writer and play consultant Tim Gill on his book for the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, “No Fear: Growing up in a risk averse society” 2007. Play is an important conceptual and design element in all Nils’ public sculptures, prototypes and proposals, informed by his extensive research.

Begbrook Primary Academy:

Begbrook Primary Academy is a multi-cultural, community school, which become an academy in September 2012. The school traces its origins to a Victorian school in Brinkworthy Road, Stapleton. In 1946 pupils were transferred to the present site and the school was renamed Begbrook School. It occupied buildings which had previously been used as a wartime hospital. In 2003 the school was completely rebuilt and is now housed in modern, light, airy buildings. The school has extensive grounds bordering on Snuff Mills with large playing fields, mature trees, purpose-built play areas for reception, nursery and year one children, an adventure playground, a large tarmacked playground, cultivated raised vegetable beds and a nature reserve all within its perimeter. This environment gives children fantastic opportunities for outdoor learning.

Begbrook currently have three classes in reception, year one and year two, and two classes in years three, four, five and six. Over the next five years, the school will expand to three classes per year with new buildings to accommodate this expansion. The school represent a wide range of backgrounds with around 50% of children coming from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds and around 22% of the children speak English as an Additional Language. The school celebrates diversity and children are encouraged to learn from each other about their friends’ cultures and languages. In September 2012, Begbrook left the local authority to join the Cabot Learning Federation.

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