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Montclair Kimberly Courtyard 1

Taking the Classroom Outdoors at Montclair Kimberley Academy

For this prominently located courtyard at Montclair Kimberly Academy, we reimagined the uninspired—and uninspiring—lawn as a woodland grotto that unifies the school's architecture. Its versatility, durability, and beauty have made the landscape one of the most beloved spaces in school. 

A Multipurpose Landscape for Multipurpose Learning. 

There are multiple playgrounds at Montclair Kimberly, so we designed the space to be more of a classroom extension — and outdoor reading nook, essentially. That doesn't mean it can't be fun!


Around a meandering pathway, we placed rocks and boulders harvested from the area to create spaces for sitting, reading, and discussing — or leaping, jumping, and hiding. The non-prescriptive design gives teachers options for how to best support students, and empowers students to learn by making their own choices. With tones of red, orange, brown, and gray, the stones and pavers also create a visual connection between the school's new and old buildings, strengthening the identity of the overall campus.

Montclair Kimberly Courtyard 2

.Large stones provide space for sitting during outdoor classes and platforms for leaping during outdoor play

Montclair Kimberly Academy plants.jpeg

As these native grasses and shrubs mature, they'll form a dense and colorful groundcover.

Designed for Durability and Year-Round Beauty

All the plants have been selected because they're quick to establish and easy to maintain. The native grasses, shrubs, and perennials will spread quickly and flow together, covering the edges of the walkway to make an immersive, long-lasting landscape. The evergreen Dwarf Inkberries and Ansonia, which bring their bright yellows in the fall and delicate blue flowers in the spring, offer color and interest throughout the year, while "Serviceberry" trees give the landscape a strong vertical element and add a dash of color — and flavor! The school community— and the birds—will be drawn to its blueberry-like fruits throughout the summer.

As a result of our work, this small landscape has made the school feel more unified than ever. It's a hit with families, teachers, and, most importantly, students. It even won the approval of an initially dubious facilities director who noted, "I don't normally like things, but I like this." We like it too, Jimmy. We like it too.

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