sprouting minds competition

Milan, Isola Pepe Verde, 2018

Project Finalist, collaboration with Adrian Labaut

Our goal was to create a unique space, always changing, challenging, provoking and stimulating; the people are part of the ‘material’ of the project, a group of micro interventions inside a peculiar part of the city. We visualise the new Isola Pepe Verde as one of those projects that gain strength with time, to eventually become an ‘original’ from which copies are made.

The project is created as a superposition of two different realities: the “territory of the city” and the “landscape of imagination”. The former creates the base, presenting an infinite number of possibilities. It is an abstract outline of the space and it doesn’t have a specific content.

Then, the second reality fills this void and gives the site an ever changing narrative. It is a materialisation of innovative ideas and the theories of philosophers and researchers of the 20th century who focussed on children’s education and their development. Flexibility and softness are the embodiment of life as quoted in the movie Stalker (Tarkovsky) and this idea is expressed in the site both in the material and in the fictional fields.

The overlapping of two schemes is carried out for two reasons. First, there is a strong importance given to the concept and development process of the project. Second, we were searching for the unique characterisation, the “aura” of the project in its place and time in this period of over-production and re-production. The new area becomes a bundle of places inside a single space, each of them articulated but autonomous, constantly metamorphosing the capacities of the whole park. We were very attentive to the potentialities of associative meanings carried by the objects and surfaces in their ever-changing interaction, and so our proposal is suspended in a condition of unknowability, almost unfinished due to the infinite ways in which it can develop.


In order to reach the final idea there has been an heterogeneous conceptual and practical process of research, adopting the physical model as a fundamental tool. In our project the playground is extended along the whole site, and is available for users of all ages. The area is a succession of dynamic and less active zones, with different ground surfaces. Over this area, and based on an established grid, specific object are distributed, each of them representing a different set of possibilities.

In the new Isola Pepe Verde children will be able to learn by playing and by doing ‘practical’ things: building, cleaning, gardening, exploring, planting, rearing animals - learning through action. The site is not the artificial result of the implementation of adult rules, but a place where kids create their own reality. It is conceived as a big workshop, a playground for all ages, in which the wall is not simply a wall, the door, the fence, but all surfaces and objects have different meanings, and their interaction with the surroundings will help the kids to learn about themselves and the world, finding unique harmony in themselves while the adult interacts and participates, but does not intrude, in their activities.


There are no strict borders or fences. The site is conceptually divided into zones with different interactive values, in which everything is visually and functionally connected. In the same manner, the way in which the objects and surfaces are located answers to the necessity of creating specific safe spaces for kids of different ages. The eastern side of the playground is conceived for smaller kids, and the western one for bigger ones, in-between there is a wide range of age variation.

In the park everybody is a player. The objects brought to the site by the parents will be stored based on their shape, texture, colour, use, etc. All objects will be visible and their organisation (based on the ideas of Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner) is part of the experiencing of the site. The storage is differentiated between kids 0-4, 0-8, 8-11, 11-18y/0 .


The surfaces are interactive and can be painted or modified in any way. Each surface is considered a “busy board” for children, where they create their own logic. The components and mechanism of the solar panel and the water storing system are exhibited under the flat metal roof. The wall facing the 2nd entrance is a sound-wall, a DIY structure attached to which there will be a wide range of different objects with which the children can interact and create different sounds.

Water Pavilion on the left. Drawing of a 4 y.o. about the kindergarten of his dreams

Water Pavilion on the left. Drawing of a 4 y.o. about the kindergarten of his dreams

You can read the interview with Ivan here:

The site creates infinite possibilities and scenarios. Although objects can be very different, we propose a complete list divided into ages, which can be seen in the Catalogue. Fundamentally all the objects must be “universal, safe, interesting and supernormal”, other than cheap or recycled. To be admitted in the site the objects should be checked by organisers in terms of safety. The sharp parts should be removed, the rust painted and so on.

“A large wooden table placed in a workshop area is used for drawing, the same table placed in the open area during the rain becomes a shelter, on the sand and upside down is a shipwrecked ship. Pair the table with the french window, it makes a wardrobe, place the window in the ‘wild zone' and it becomes a house of a lonely hunter.”

“Place two objects together and make a story, create something.”

Catalogue of objects

Catalogue of objects

The site will be used for multiple types of workshops for kids and adults (working with objects, DIY, gardening, arts/crafts, fantasy development, architecture) as well as theatre, markets, exhibitions, parties and activities for the senior citizens. It is meant to be a place for experimentation, creating a very interactive system of organisation, education and performance with undoubtedly very positive outcomes.



The site is very simple in material terms, completely self sustainable and respectful towards the environment, while at the same time it is internally and programmatically very complex. This was a fundamental idea since the beginning of the concept and development of the project. We didn’t want to create a landmark, or increase tourism in the zone, but rather we were searching for the outcome of the collision of the uniqueness and authenticity of the society and children’s imagination here and now, with the dynamic and transient character of fashion and lifestyles in a metropolis like Milan.


Consulted bibliography:

The books and essays of some very important educators and educational reformers were studied and applied to the modern situation related with playgrounds design and education of kids in general. Their books were fundamental for understanding the main ideas of the children’s perception of the world, their development and education through play and art.

  • Dewey, John. (1933) How We Think. A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process (Revised edn.), Boston: D.C. Heath. Exploration of thinking and its relationship to learning. Dewey’s concern with experience, interaction and reflection.

  • Dewey, John. (1929) Experience and Nature, New York: Dover. Exploration of the relationship between the external world, the mind and knowledge.

  • Itten, Johannes. (1975) Design and Form.The Basic Course at the Bauhaus and Later. Van Nostrand Reinhold. The basic course at the Bauhaus was designed as a trial period to determine the students creative talent, to help them in their choice of a career, and to teach them elementary design as a basis for future careers.

  • Piaget, Jean William Fritz, (1923) The Language and Thought of the Child. On how a child develops language, thought, and knowledge.

  • Korczak, Janusz, (1939) Playful pedagogy. Pedagogical works about his experience in dealing with children.

  • Klee, Paul, (1925) Pedagogical Sketchbook. An intuitive art investigation of dynamic principles invisual arts. ‘Adventure in seeing’ guided step-by-step through a challenging conceptual framework. Objects are rendered in a complex relation to physical and intellectual space concepts.

  • Makarenko, Anton. (1925-1935) The Pedagogical Poem.

  • Makarova, Elena. (2014) Give freedom to the elephant. On understand children's creations not primarly as works of art, but as a process for getting to know the world. It is through creativity that the child finds its place in the world.

  • Makarova, Elena. (2011) Friedl Dicker-Brandeis : Vienna 1898-Auschwitz 1944 : the artist who inspired the children's drawings of Terezin, Los Angeles, CA.

  • Munari, Bruno. (2004) Drawing a Tree, Mantua.

  • Montessori, Maria. (2010) Spontaneous Activity in Education, London, FQ Books.

  • Montessori, Maria (1995) The Absorbent Mind, Holt Paperbacks. The exploration of the mind of the child when he is between 0 and 6 y.o.

  • Rodari, Gianni, (1973) The Grammar of Fantasy, N.Y. A book about the pedagogical career of the author, playing with the imagination, dreaming up stories and ideas.

  • Stern, Arno.(2003) Le closlieu, le jeu de peindre et la formulation, AbeBooks Seller. Semiology and “Closlieu” - space for art.

  • Stern, André. (2017) Jugar. Litera Libros. On children’s creativity and education. With contributions of Prof. Dr. Gerald Hütler, Sabine Kriechbaum, Teresa Meckel, Sophie Rabhi, Sir Ken Robinson, Katharina Saalfrank, Thomas Sattelberger, Arno Stern y Erwin Wagenhofer.

  • Stern, André. (2013) Yo nunca fui a la escuela. Litera Libros. A bibliography of André Stern, the man who never went to school. On unschooling, own experience and ways of self-educating

  • Steiner, Rudolf. (2010) The Kingdom of Childhood, Introductory Talks on Waldorf Education. Talks, given in England, about the need for observation in teachers; the dangers of stressing the intellect too early; the education of children’s souls through wonder and reverence; the importance of first presenting the “whole,” and then the parts, to the children’s imagination.