Reflecting School Culture Through Buildings

Here’s an approach that we’re starting to see more of here in India, but it’s long overdue – an approach to school architecture that starts from the school culture, ethos and approaches to learning. In this approach before designers and architects do anything they set out to understand, in detail the kinds of approaches to learning that are going to go on. They work hard to understand the vision of the school, the kinds of learning spaces wanted, and then design a building around those ideas.

The Who Child Blog – What Works

Sadly, too often we have seen school buildings here in India where architects and designers have failed to understand these principles – or have they? If you know that a school intends to have 30 children to a class and design classrooms that can just take 30 desks, pointing in one direction in rows, with just enough space for a teacher’s desk and chair out front, then maybe you have perfectly understood that the underlying philosophy is to avoid any ‘wasted space’ that might exist if you went for a more child centric spacious design that allowed for various configurations of furniture, break-out areas etc. The underlying ‘culture’ reflected is actually one of financial optimization!

I loved this article for what it suggests, briefly, is possible with imagination and ingenuity to really make buildings, spaces and structures act in support of the ethos of the school.

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2 Responses

  1. Agree totally with you on the need for buildings to reflect the educational philosophy of the school. The blame for constructing schools as breadboxes essentially goes to the prevailing byelaws and the clients themselves. The laws ensure that if the buildings are not designed as breadboxes stackked one on top of other, permissible FAR is not achieved. Now none of the promotors are willing to forego this FAR and thus compromise on the design aspect of the school. Everyone knows that a school should not be more than three floors high, but most of the schools we see are four floors.

    I couldn’t resist commenting, as I feel that architects are squarely blamed for designing breadboxes. Being an architect my self and designing schools ffor the last ten years, I know for sure why some schools are designed the way they are. We take pride in designing schools that are student friendly, conducive to learning while being financially optimal. There has to be some give and take. If the client values the intangibles, he is willing to leave some FAR for designing such a building.
    We have been designing schools that effectively use building as a learning aid. And these BALA techniques are intervowen in the curriculum.

    Last but not the least, clients appoint the wrong architects, just because they know him or somebody they know, know him. For schools, architect selected should know about schools, curriculum, operation and student psyche.

  2. An interesting and thought-provoking article. Thank you, Mark.

    Well, for most schools here in India, I don’t think it is possible to make drastic changes to the structure of the building or classrooms. However, I am sure they can do something innovative so that students develop a sense of belonging. I would like to know what changes you have made or planned to make.

    Best wishes,
    Dharmendra.

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