After homes, schools are arguably the most important buildings to shape children’s development. The design and architecture of educational institutions significantly influence children’s physical, cognitive, social, emotional, and creative progress.
By providing conducive environments for learning and growth, school buildings contribute to the holistic development of students, supporting their academic achievements, well-being, and preparation for the future.
Long after children graduate, they might not remember the algebra formulas, periodic table details, or some important dates in history. Still, no doubt their school experiences, which are shaped by the school’s design and architecture, stay with them.
Why School Architecture Matters For Education and Wellbeing
Estonian-American architect Louis Kahn (1901-1974) was one of the first architects to voice the importance of architecture as an educational tool. When he got a bizarre request to design a school without windows, Kahn observed: “I got an order from the school board that said ‘We have a great idea. We should not put windows in the school because children need wall space for their paintings, and also windows can distract from the teacher’. Now, what teacher deserves that much attention? After all, the birds outside, the person scurrying for shelter in the rain, the leaves falling from the trees, the clouds passing by, the sun penetrating: these are all great things. They are lessons in themselves.”
- Physical Health and Wellbeing
School buildings provide a safe and healthy environment for children to learn and grow. Well-designed facilities with proper ventilation, lighting, and access to clean water and sanitation facilities contribute to students’ overall well-being and reduce the risk of health issues. Adequate spaces for physical activities, such as playgrounds and sports facilities, promote physical fitness and encourage an active lifestyle.
- An Environment to Support Learning
Thoughtfully designed classrooms, libraries, and laboratories provide spaces that support focused learning, critical thinking, and problem-solving. Acoustic considerations, comfortable furniture, and appropriate lighting can create an atmosphere conducive to concentration, enabling students to maximize their cognitive potential.
- Fostering Friendship and Empathy
Well-designed communal areas, such as cafeterias, shared spaces, and outdoor gathering areas, provide opportunities for social interaction, fostering friendships, empathy, and teamwork. Inclusive and welcoming architecture contributes to a sense of belonging and promotes positive relationships among students and teachers — while also contributing to a sense of community.
- Encouraging Engagement and Curiosity
Furthermore, as Louis Kahn observed, certain learning environments can inspire and energize students, making them more eager to participate and engage in educational activities. Thoughtful use of colors, natural elements, play, and interactive spaces can contribute to a positive and stimulating atmosphere, motivating students to actively pursue knowledge and learning.
The following five schools have all been designed with these sensitivities in mind.
5 Schools That Used Architecture as an Educational Opportunity
- Startup Lions Campus – Turkana County, Kenya
A humble, yet extremely sophisticated educational institution built by the renowned Burkinabe architect Francis Kere, Startup Lions Campus resembles termite mounds, and blends smoothly with the natural morphology of its environment.
In a remote and impoverished part of East Africa, this campus provides free training, networking, and housing space to 200 students.
- The Green School – Bali, Indonesia
The open-air classrooms, natural surroundings, and integration with nature create a harmonious learning environment emphasizing sustainability and connection with the earth.
- ASA STEAM School – Asuncion, Paraguay
While designing a school within the large campus of the American School in Asuncion, British architects David and Mary Medd ensured their approach would differ from the over-protectiveness that’s dominant in school architecture.
The result was the ASA Steam School, with a design characterized by openness, permeability, and abundant natural light, creating a strong connection between the architectural space and the surrounding world and nature.
- The Vittra School, Telefonplan – Stockholm, Sweden
This Swedish school is renowned for its innovative and unconventional design. It features open-plan spaces, flexible learning environments, and vibrant colors.
The architecture promotes collaboration, creativity, and independent learning by providing various zones for different activities, such as individual work, group discussions, and quiet reflection.
- MS Kindergarten – Maebashi, Japan
MS Kindergarten follows a child-centered educational philosophy — and the design of its building reflects this.
The architectural approach is fully integrated into nature and responds to seasonal changes. It incorporates elements that cater to children’s needs and encourages their development. The spaces are designed to promote exploration, play, and social interaction, fostering a sense of curiosity, creativity, and independence among the students.