As cities scramble for land in the congested built environment, schools across the globe are exploring multi-storey buildings where rooftops are utilised for sports and recreational space.

Tian Tai No.2 Primary School, located in an old crowded county of the Zhejiang province, is but one example, with a 200-metre running track installed on its roof.

In order to meet the physical education requirements for the students despite a lack of available land, the architects utilised the rooftop, bringing what was projected to be a five-level building down to four. That switch also sees the architecture of the school blend more harmoniously with its’ surrounding urban setting.

LYCS Architecture, which led the design, wanted to “focus on the relationship between architecture and the venue, the venue and the city, between form and function.”

The firm also hopes the project will serve as a model for other schools that lack recreational outdoor space.

The building’s shape closely follows the curve of its oval running track. The building covers 41 per cent of the site, while an inner courtyard and running track make up 3,000 square metres of space.

“In order to create more available green courtyard spaces, the building is twisted about 15 degrees, creating smaller pockets of space between the site wall and the exterior envelope,” LYCS says.

The track has three layers of guardrail for safety precaution.

“The exterior layer is 1.8m high tempered glass wall, the middle layer is 50cm wide green belt, the interior layer is 1.2m high stainless steel guardrail,” says LYCS. “For the issue of noise, the spring cushions are put every 50x50cm under the plastic track, thus reducing the further kinetic noise by means of the double-layer structure.”

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The track features three layers of guardrail for student safety

China and North America have plenty of projects featuring athletic rooftops, with the trend on the rise.

A 2014 paper, Research on the Status of Students’ Participation in Sports in Some, looked at 13 poor private middle schools in Qingdao, China stating that  “sport is a component part of school education, and it’s also an important content of campus culture construction.”

The report noted that in dense cities, space is limited to meet the athletic needs of schools.

“Further worse, some of them don’t have basic facilities, such as the track fields and basketball court,” it said.

Seattle’s Northwest School unveiled state-of-the-art athletic facilities that include a 6,000 square rooftop field earlier this year. The project, designed by Seattle-based firm Mithum, cost roughly $19 million and featured including a gym, a theatre and a cafeteria for the school’s 450 students.

“Our goal was to design not only a beautiful building that supports our interdisciplinary program but one that would operate sustainably in a tight urban environment,” NWS head of school Mike McGill said in a statement. “We maximised every inch of space to pack program into the smallest footprint; we recycled soil and building materials, installed energy monitoring devices, and landscaped with native plantings. It’s a celebration of urban living and sustainability.”

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Seattle’s North West School rooftop field combines sports and sustainability

Last year, roofing experts Tecta America installed a synthetic rooftop field atop the Milwaukee School of Engineering Parking Garage. Uihlein-Wilson Architects designed the 100 square foot field, which also mitigates the impacts of storm water runoff.

“This is a great, low maintenance surface that drains quickly and gives the athletes a safe playing field,” said Doug Biggar, sales manager for Tecta’s F.J.A. Christiansen Roofing Co said. ”These obviously aren’t typically installed on roofs, so the membrane and insulation underneath required very careful planning.”

Attached to the top of the parking garage is lightweight liquid concrete insulation that aids the draining of the pitch. In addition, a PVC membrane was adhered directly to the insulation, providing a more durable, waterproof solution than the EPDM (rubber) membrane initially planned.

The International Grammar School in Sydney has a rooftop play area designed by architects Allen Jack+Cottier. The school’s roof features an outdoor playground shaded by photovoltaic cells, ensuring every inch of premium urban space is used to full capacity.

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Basketball court atop International Grammar School, Sydney

In Blackburn in the UK, a rooftop sports facility installed atop a school wasa long listed for the RIBA Stirling Prize 2013.

Thornton Sports installed a synthetic grass rooftop that sits atop a fabricated shock-pad along with a unique SudsSports rooftop system for the pitch.

“(This) incorporates light-weight plastic units as a sub-base replacement layer, to create a void between the surface and the rooftop structure,” according to Thornton.

While the rooftops of these schools primarily serve the physical educational curriculum of their students, they also offer spaces for athletic meet-ups and sports events in the heart of their cities.