May 2, 2024

In conversation with Birgit Teichmann, Founder and Managing Director of Teichmann LandschaftsArchitekten in Berlin, Germany


The Climate Ready Schools Conversation Series connects those interested in transforming school grounds with the expertise of key leaders who have partnered with Evergreen on climate adaptive design projects.

Evergreen’s Climate Ready Schools builds on our 30-year legacy of transforming school grounds across Canada into nature-rich play and learning environments for both children and their communities. The Climate Ready Schools Conversation Series is focused on connecting people and organizations interested in this important work with the knowledge and expertise of key leaders and change advocates who have partnered with Evergreen on these innovative climate adaptive design projects. 

Birgit Teichmann - founder and Managing Director of Teichmann LandschaftsArchitekten

Birgit Teichmann is a certified landscape architect and engineer based in Berlin, Germany. Birgit is the Founder and Managing Director of Teichmann LandschaftsArchitekten (Teichmann Landscape Architecture) and led the design of the Irma Coulson Public School Climate Ready School Ground. Birgit has worked as a landscape architect for over 25 years and created the Sponge School Ground Strategy.  

You’ve been designing green school grounds for over 25 years! Can you tell us why you love this work? 

I really like this work because it brings about change and impacts the lives of kids and their schools. It’s a good way to help the planet. We’ve designed over 200 school yards and kindergartens in Berlin and the surrounding area — and even in Canada! 

Working on the Irma Coulson Climate Ready School project was very exciting for us. We were interested in implementing our experience from Germany in another country. In Canada, we found so many open-minded people who were receptive to our ideas around creating green school grounds. 

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced with respect to transforming school grounds?  

When we started designing school grounds many years ago, we had to overcome a lot of obstacles. People didn’t always understand why we encouraged having nature on school grounds; they saw potential risks everywhere and preferred concrete as a “safer” option. 

Furthermore, planners and officials did not understand the needs of the users. They questioned why we wanted participation and engagement in the design process from students and teachers. It took time, but participation is now obligatory for planning in public spaces.  

Can you describe your approach to designing school grounds?  

Our approach starts with the school and school board. The school must have initiative and ambition to change their school ground. Someone needs to take responsibility and champion the idea.  

When we start to workshop the design with students, teachers, and partners, they begin to look at their old school ground with a new perspective and understand how people in other age groups — youth, young children, parents — want to see the space. Kids are the specialists — they know their school ground best! 

We want to understand what works well and what doesn’t within the current school ground — where conflicts happen, where there is too much sun, where it is too loud. Then, we use those ideas to start planning. We consider things like circulation, planting and topography to help create space for diverse uses of the school ground. 

The best driver for change is the school community itself. If they understand the theory and reasoning behind the project, they help push it forward.  

What are some of the key design principles of your approach?  

We have certain quality standards in our design to include spaces for movement (swinging, jumping) but also spaces to retreat and relax, spaces for shelter and sociability and spaces for creative free play so that not every place has a predetermined, set use. 

We like to use natural materials. We try to ensure rainwater drainage on the site and only put paving where necessary. We know kids always take the shortest path from A to B, so we consider circulation and reflect those paths of travel in any plantings to prevent damage.  

We define the different spaces and make them work for the kids but also for the school and maintenance team. It’s important to have this in mind when you plan because the site only continues to function when the people who maintain it are empowered to do so.  

Are materials important to you in creating an atmosphere for children?    

We try to develop landscapes using recycled materials because usually they are more affordable. Find stuff and we’ll find a way to use it! 

If we have a sandpit with a water play area, we surround the sandpit with edges made of natural and reused materials to lower costs and make it more interesting. Edge walls have multiple functions because of their height — they keep the sand in the sandpit, but they can also be used for sitting or balancing. 

Using natural materials also helps to create a certain atmosphere. We usually avoid plastics or rubber surfaces because they’re not natural (except when they are required for sports). For swings and climbing structures, there’s no need to use rubber as the ground surface. We prefer to use a natural surface cover like mulch.  

How do you involve artists and craftspeople in the design? Why is this an important aspect of the work you do?  

Involving artists and craftspeople gives a space individuality and identity. It’s a good way to work with artists, such as stone carvers, painters and wood carvers. 

We also depend on resources and connections from the school community. We always ask if there is someone who can participate — maybe an art teacher or a biology teacher who can work on a project for the site.  

The students are also given ways to experiment and express themselves. It’s very simulating for the children to build and create in real life. Their art is visible outside of the classroom for parents, friends, and visitors to see. They are proud of their work and can show it off to others, giving them a strong sense of identity. It can also help prevent vandalism.  

What is the Sponge School Ground Strategy? How does it support stormwater management on school grounds?  

A Sponge School Ground is made by unsealing the school ground. If less ground area is sealed by concrete and asphalt, more rainwater can drain or evaporate on the site. If you use water-permeable coverings, rainwater will stay on the site and drain properly on the site. 

In many cases, it’s possible to unseal the ground just by changing the soil composition to make it more permeable. However, in some areas — such as at Irma Coulson — the predominant soil type is just not permeable. We could have put a subsurface element in to support drainage, but that would have needed to be quite deep, which would have been expensive. 

Instead, we chose to create a Sponge School Ground by planting trees and improving the microclimate by avoiding using dark materials.  

What is the Biotope Area Factor (BAF). What guidance does it provide to design professionals? 

The concept of Biotope Area Factor (BAF) arose from severe storms in Berlin and is used in the construction of every new building there, including homes and schools. 

BAF is an easy way to explain the importance of the surfaces that are used in a construction project. It compares the ratio of sealed surfaces to unsealed surfaces. The better the BAF is, the more unsealed surfaces you have. Different paving materials have different degrees of permeability. Other components like green walls can also improve the BAF of a site. To receive a construction permit in Berlin, you must reach a certain BAF level. With climate change, it is becoming even more important.  

What did you notice when visiting Canadian school grounds? 

In Canada, we saw two types of school grounds: those covered in concrete and rubber and those covered in grass. Grass is better, but we need more diversity to contribute to climate resilience. A green school ground doesn’t only mean grass; it means the surfaces should be as permeable as possible. A green school ground means having robust, climate-resilient regional plants and trees of different sizes, with as much diversity as possible to provide shade and support soil health. 

Climate Ready Schools set a good example for kids and adults for how easily a school ground can be made ready for a changing climate. Picture the number of school grounds spread out across each board or region in Canada… Now imagine the positive impacts if they were all climate ready! 

How do you make spaces that are welcoming to everyone?  

Climate Ready School grounds are welcoming because they don’t overwhelm you with specialties. It’s a natural, down-to-earth space. It looks simple because it’s meant to be simple. You don’t need to make a masterpiece of engineering. Our goal when designing a school ground is to create a concept that is so simple and understandable that people from the school feel they could build it themselves. 

Learn more 

Are you interested in supporting the Climate Ready Schools program? Are you representing a school board interested in your own Climate Ready Schools journey? Please send your inquiries to We’d love to hear from you! 

Want to learn more? Check out our wealth of resources on the Evergreen Resource Hub. 

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