How Do We Build Better Schools?

Education is always an important concern of society. Within the fields of planning, architecture, design, and proper maintenance (ie roof repair including classroom renovations) much thought is also given to the development of education. How can we improve the quality of life in educational institutions? How can schools become meeting places? How do we orient the building in such a way that performance increases? In short: how do we build ‘better’ schools?

An example that clearly shows that people are actively involved in the future development of schools and education is Our New School. This is a public competition in which the public was asked about their vision regarding the education of the future. Green schools, a ‘makers’ lab’, schools with flexible workplaces for parents – everyone has their own picture of what it should (possibly) look like in the future. Yet contemporary practice also shows some inspiring examples of how education and schools can develop.

The question ‘how do we build better schools that stimulate learning performance and meeting?’ is an important point of attention.

Get rid of the traditional classroom

We are increasingly seeing school buildings where traditional classrooms are not used (or minimally). The Sydhavn Skole in Copenhagen has almost no closed premises. The JJW Architects building is designed in such a way that children from certain age groups share a large, open floor where they jointly use a space that is equipped for a wide variety of ‘subjects’. The higher you go in the building, the older the students are in general. Different ages share a floor: a large, open space where some are counting, another is busy with a computer assignment, and another is concentrating on building .. maybe a school of the future? The aim of the design is to stimulate intergenerational contact between students, and to give them a sense of freedom and responsibility. Despite everything, a small number of lockable spaces can be found in the building: when keys have to be made, conversations are held,

Binding with the environment

Just like the Sydhavn Skole, the Saunalahti School in Espoo (Finland) is characterized by a large degree of open space. The building accommodates around 750 students who vary greatly in age. However, what is (more) important is that the building is open to everyone: it has emerged as’ the living room of the neighborhood”. Various functions in the building not only serve the purpose of education, but function directly in the neighborhood. For example, the library is open to the public in the evening; is there a partnership between the school and the adjacent daycare; and there is a public playground where students and neighbors can play and possibly meet each other. Such an ‘open’ and ‘public design increases the possibility of contact with the environment, and strengthens the bond with the neighborhood. The Saunalahti School also looked closely at the relationship between design and the promotion of learning performance. The architects of Verstas Architects Wherever possible, they used glass and large windows to let in as much daylight as possible and to create a sense of openness and transparency.

The facilitation of public functions such as a library and daycare in a school building provides more and a stronger bond with the environment.

People in their own country are also actively thinking about (and building) ‘better’ schools. Some time ago it was announced that the Municipality of Rotterdam is investing € 200 million in school buildings. ‘Fresh schools’ contribute to the quality of education, among other things by a focus on indoor climate, energy performance and health. Perhaps it is also possible to look at these (and other) examples of our Scandinavian neighbors with a slanted eye.