Rudolph Blankenburg Schoolyard


The redevelopment of the Blankenburg School playground created over 85,000 square feet of space for the kindergarten through 8th grade students at the school. Blankenburg students from grades 3 through 5, the school librarian, and Drexel University students worked in collaboration to transform the cracked asphalt, sinkholes, and rusty basketball hoops of the existing schoolyard into a “Magical Space” for learning, thinking, resting, playing and growing.


The Blankenburg School students created pictures and clay models of what they envisioned for the playground, also known as the “Magical Space.” The Drexel interior design students then used these models for inspiration, gaining insight into what the children wanted in their schoolyard in terms of activities and interests. After a two-week design charette, a plan took shape. Drexel interior design students worked in small teams to produce schematic design ideas, which were critiqued by the students of Blankenburg. Once this part of the process was completed, they decided to move forward with the project and reach a tangible result. This required applying for grants, researching codes, and scheduling regular meetings with school officials and the local community. Two of the university’s graduate assistants worked to collect information through community input and teacher surveys. Students also held a class session focused on various kinds of outdoor areas, such as open-air classrooms and performance spaces. Throughout the entire process, the children from Blankenburg were actively involved in fundraising activities.

Implement Working

Drexel students, Blankenburg students and teachers then collaborated to paint the ground and wall murals. The final product was a place for children to play safely, with many possible activities. at the same time, involvement in the process taught the design students the importance of achieving such a goal. In addition to the enhanced visual aesthetic proposed, the children’s behavior was also seen to improve on the playground, with less fighting observed among the children. This project also reconnected the community with the school through collaboration. Community volunteers participated by attending meetings, painting and planting. Set backs along the way included code compliance, union issues, red tape from the school district, and time constraint. However, through compromise and flexibility, both key to the success of the project, the process continued. For example, while more green space and a rain garden were initially desired, in the long run they would not have been the best option for the community or the site. Students learned the importance of sustainable community design and participatory design. They had to keep in mind Mill Creek’s water problems and compromise to satisfy the codes, helping them learn the important lesson of modifying goals to achieve a positive outcome. An important goal in this project was to improve the community through creating place.

Press + Publicity:

Huffington Post “Drexel Design Students Give Magical Makeover to West Philly Playground” –
Philadelphia inquirer “Magical spaces open at West Phila. School” by Stephen Jiwanmall, Inquirer Staff Writer, page B03. –
ABC local News Broadcast “WPVi 6 West Philadelphia Playground dedication”



Debra Ruben, LEED AP, NCIDQ, IDEC; Associate Professor Drexel University; Project director, Lead Faculty

Faculty Support: Carol Chew


Nicholas Allen Sandoz, Joseph C. Andracchio, Brenna T.Carter, Mary Kathryn E. Haas, Amanda F. Hirsh, Jennifer M. Hirsh, Samantha L. Slockett, Caitlin Turnowchyk, Kimberly R. Dean, Lauren Denham, Veronica Lawson, Alana R. Okun, Amanda Pincin, Hee Y. Chon, Debra Lee-Torchiana, Jenny D. Martin, Brooke E. Michie, Yasmina Moukarzel, Mo-yun Niu, Lauren A. Penot, Kera M. Ritter, Glenna L. Stone, Noelle M. Via, Kelly E. Wood

Student Researcher: Jessica Neilson

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