When it comes to designing schools, security is always a big issue. This fact was thrown into sharp focus in December of 2012 after the Sandy Hook Tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. Last year, we featured an article discussing how design can deal with tragedy – both in order to prevent it and how to deal with the aftermath. Now, a report by Building Design and Construction investigates the measures that could prevent dangerous incidents. While they admit “it’s impossible to stop an armed madman who is hell-bent on killing”, the report has a number of simple and sensible recommendations which aid in preventing and responding to a threat. You can read the report here.
Inter National Design (IND), based in Rotterdam and Istanbul, have won first prize in a restricted competition to design a large school complex in Viranşehir, Turkey. Five rectangular courtyards, together with five dynamic public strips, combine to envelop the collection of buildings with a variety of both neutral and dynamic voidal spaces. A degree of permeability with the city is designed into the scheme with the “two types of open spaces following a gradient using the buildings as filters from the hermetic façade of the courtyards to the permeable skins of the outer façade”. Hills, pyramid stairs and areas of wild nature tie the atmosphere of the scheme into a unit within a “homogenous industrial roof profile and a modular structure”.
In this article for The Guardian, Oliver Wainwright reviews Chobham Academy, a new school built as part of East London’s Olympic Legacy by architects AHMM. While he finds the school impressive and ambitious, Wainwright questions whether the campus, which acts as the ‘fulcrum’ between the poverty-stricken streets of Leyton and the high end flats of the former Athlete’s Village, will be able to bring the two parts of this community together. You can read the full article here.
Unpredictable climate changes along the world’s most vulnerable coastal communities, have produced some fascinating design solutions that test the resiliency of architectural possibilities and the need for adaptation that will produce these changes. The coastal community of Makoko, a slum neighborhood, off the Lagos Lagoon in Lagos, Nigeria, is receiving an upgrade to its current solution, which is building homes supported on stilts within the lagoon’s waters. NLE Architects, with sponsoring from United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Heinrich Boell Foundation from Germany, designed the Makoko Floating School, phase one of a three-phase development that will become a floating community of interlocked and floating residences. Construction on the project began in October 2012 and was completed just last month with grand appraisal from the community and UN visitors.
More on Makoko’s floating schools after the break…
In our last Editorial, “Post-Traumatic Design: How to Design Schools that Heal Past Wounds and Prevent Future Violence,” we discussed how architects must conceptualize school design in the wake of the tragic shootings that have affected our nation. Rather than leaning towards overly secure, prison-like structures, the Editorial suggested a different model, one better suited to dealing with student needs (particularly for those who have experienced trauma): domestic violence shelters.
While the comparison may seem bizarre at first, shelter design is all about implementing un-invasive security measures that could easily make schools safer, healthier spaces for students. To further elaborate this unlikely connection, we spoke with an Associate at Mahlum Architecture, Corrie Rosen, who has worked with the The Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence [WSCADV] on the Building Dignity project, which provides Domestic Violence Shelters advice to design shelters that empower and heal.
Find out Mahlum’s 8 strategies for designing schools that can improve security and student well-being, after the break…
Over a month has passed since the Sandy Hook tragedy. Its surviving students have gone back to school, albeit at another facility (decorated with old posters to make it feel familiar), and are working on putting this tragic event behind them. The nation is similarly moving on – but this time, with an eye to action.
The goal is obvious: to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again. The means, less so. While President Obama’s recent gun control policy offers some solutions, it’s by no means the only way. Indeed, opinions vary – from clamping down on gun control, to better addressing the root cause of mental illness, to even arming teachers in the classroom.
The design world has similarly contributed to the debate. A recent article in ArchRecord questioned how, in the wake of Sandy Hook, we should design our schools: “While fortress-like buildings with thick concrete walls, windows with bars, and special security vestibules may be more defensible than what is currently in vogue, they are hardly the kind of places that are optimal for learning.”Indeed, turning a school into a prison would be the design equivalent of giving a teacher a rifle. You would, of course, have a more “secure” environment – but at what cost?
As America and the world considers how we can move on after these traumas, I’d like to take a moment to consider what role design could play. If the answer is not to turn our schools into prisons, then what is? Can design help address the root causes of violence and make our schools less vulnerable to tragedy? If so, how?
Let’s begin with the obvious: kids like to climb, and run, and get their hands on anything that could (and probably will) break. They like to explore and imagine, create and destroy and create again.
Thankfully, a movement in the world of Education has begun to account for this reality (see:Ken Robinson’s seminal 2007 TedTalk), to leave behind the antiquated schema that children are little adults, and to engage students’ creativity, energy, and need for expression – a task often complicated by the physical constraints of a traditional classroom.
When designing a classroom, architects are keenly aware of the importance of the physical conditions of a learning environment (temperature, crowding, even permeability to the community) on a child’s psyche.  However, as much as we depend upon studies to help us design the “correct” environment, what we ultimately need is a practical, playful perspective that understands what excites and engages children.
We need a source of inspiration. To look at spaces that welcome interaction with the environment and encourage the free reign of energy and imagination. We need the playground.
Community-Oriented Architecture in Schools: How ‘Extroverted’ Design Can Impact Learning and Change the World
You’ve considered every detail: re-thought the spatial configurations of the classrooms to account for over 40 students, ensured that the noise from outside doesn’t drown out the teacher, perhaps even adjusted the storage to kid-friendly heights.
As an architect, you live in the skin of the people who will daily occupy your buildings. And of course, the impact of physical conditions should never be underestimated, especially in the design of a school. Study after study has cited that the correct environment can greatly improve student engagement, enrollment, and even general well-being. 
However, there is another vital way in which design can impact learning. An approach that recognizes the power of society and culture, that aims to create a school not only permeable to the community around it, but charged with positive symbolic value.
The U.S. Department of Education has recently launched its Green Ribbon Schools initiative. The program is aimed at fostering the growth of sustainable indoor and outdoor environments in addition to promoting the integration of environmental curricula into the education stream.
Holmes has submitted plans for a new flagship school in Erskine, Scotland. Park Mains High School for Renfrewshire Council will not only provide secondary education for the pupils of Erskine and the surrounding villages of Bishopton, Inchinnan and Langbank, but it’s innovative facilities will also be available, and integral, to the wider community.
The new £33 million school, which is due to start on site in January 2011, will accommodate 1400 pupils and 136 staff, and features teaching spaces arranged across 3 levels, as well as a range of enhanced PE facilities, including a four court Games Hall, Gymnasium, Dance Studio, and Fitness Suite with associated changing areas. A multi-use Assembly Hall with main stage and tiered stadium style seating has also been designed to accommodate local community activities including drama and theatre groups.
With the right equipment, you can build a school anywhere. If you don’t think so, ask the children that goes every day to Mid-Cave Primary School. Built in 1984, this school sits in one of three caves inside a mountain.
Nowadays, it accomodates 186 students with a teaching force of 8 staff. Of course, this may not be the right conditions for a child to go to school, but personally, I think it’s better for a child to go and learn in a cave, rather that don’t go to school at all.
Seen at Chinese Lives. More images after the break.
Architect: René van Zuuk Architekten
Location: Spikvoorde, Deventer, the Netherlands
Client: Landstad Projecten C.V.
Design Team: René van Zuuk, Kersten Scheller
Building Contractor: Nikkels bouwbedrijf bv /NL
Structural Ingeneering: Bartels Consulting Engineers, Apeldoorn/NL
Project Year: 2003-2005
Constructed Area: 2,150 sqm
Photographs: Christian Richters
Architects: Jarmund/Vigsnæs AS Architects MNAL
Location: Oslo, Norway
Client: Oslo International School
Design Team: Einar Jarmund, Håkon Vigsnæs, Alessandra Kosberg, Siv Hofsøy, Anders Granli, Halvor Kloster, Katrine Skavlan, Nikolaj Zamecznik, Kazuhiko Yamada, Trine Johanne Jamtli
Landscape Architect: Grindaker AS
Consultants: AS Frederiksen (structure), Ingénia AS / Ing. Per Rasmussen AS / Heiberg & Tveter AS (Mechanical), NEAS Brannconsult AS (Fire), Norconsult AS (Acoustics)
Contractor: Oslo Byggentreprenør AS
Project Year: 2006-2009
New Structure Area: 3,900 sqm
Refurbishment Area: 3,300 sqm
Photographs: Ivan Brodey
The Open Architecture Challenge is an open, international design competition and is hosted every two years on the Open Architecture Network. This year, the challenge invites architects, designers, students, teachers and parents to propose the classroom of the future. Anyone can participate and the winner will receive $50,000 for their school.
Architect: Giancarlo Mazzanti
Location: Bogota, Colombia
Collaborators: Andrés Sarmiento, Juan Manuel Gil, Gina Amado, María Constanza Saade, Carlos Melo, Alberto Aranda, Ana María González, Jorge Gómez, Manuel Mendoza, Edgar Mazo
Project Year: 2004
Construction Year: 2008
Photographs: Sergio Gómez, Veronica Restrepo