School Architecture and Design - What Works?

Tomorrow's School by Today's Architects

Brightly colored, illuminated open classroom in a public elementary school
Brightly colored, illuminated open classroom in a public elementary school. Photo by Aping Vision/STS/Digital Vision Collection/Getty Images

When parents leave their children on the school steps, lives are being entrusted to others. Mass shootings may get everyone's attention—can architects make our schools safe?—but a child's mental and physical development is forever affected by the people who create the school environment. Architects and designers are part of that backdrop.

The scene is familiar: A teacher stands at the front of a room.

Children sit in the center, their seats arranged in rows or semicircles. There is a chalkboard, a wall map, and a globe. This could be a classroom in 1995...or 1895, or even 1795. Although the details may vary, school design has seen few changes in the past two hundred years.

Computers and the internet are revolutionizing the way we teach and learn. Will they also change the way we design our schools?

Designing a technologically-rich school for the 21st century means more than simply plugging in the equipment. Computer networking, video conferencing, and new approaches to learning make traditional classroom configurations impractical. The schools of tomorrow may take on shapes that will seem foreign to us today.

What will these new schools look like? Architects, engineers and educators describe exciting possibilities.

  • Did you know... ?
    A growing body of research has linked student achievement and behavior to the physical building conditions and overcrowding. Good facilities appear to be an important precondition for student learning. But, according to government reports, schools in the United States need much work.

    Schools of the Future:

    Schools of the 21st century will provide a technologically-rich environment, say architects, engineers and educators. Here's a peek into the future, according to prototypes developed by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA).

    The Shape of Tomorrow's Schools
    In tomorrow's classrooms, students no longer need to face a podium, teacher's desk, or writing board.

    Learning stations are distributed along walls, in island clusters, or in zigzag patterns. For small study groups, work spaces are triangular rather than square. Rooms are wheelchair-friendly with wide, unobstructed passageways and low handles and switches.

    TVs and Cameras in Tomorrow's Schools
    The classroom of the future could resemble a television studio with monitors, cameras, and related equipment. One monitor might display presentations broadcast within the school building, while another monitor could display students and teachers at other locations—anywhere in the world. The television cameras could be directed at students and the teacher, or could focus on visual aids used in teacher presentations. This type of classroom would include bright overhead spotlights to enhance the quality of video transmission.

    Acoustics in Tomorrow's Schools
    A classroom designed for acoustics might include flush mounted microphones on student desks. Materials used for walls, ceilings and floors would be chosen to optimize voice clarity. Echoing linoleum hallways would become a thing of the past.

    Electrical Needs in Tomorrow's Schools
    Forget computer labs with rows of monitors and miles of tangled cables.

    In tomorrow's schools, electrical outlets and communications ports would be strategically located throughout the building. Wide conduits inside walls and beneath floors would accommodate wires and cables.

    Modular Design in Tomorrow's Schools
    Tomorrow's schools may become flexible, modular spaces. Rooms could be added to divided and reconfigured to accommodate changes in the curriculum. Portable carts would allow computers to move freely throughout the building. Movable partitions would permit teachers to shift from small to large group activities. Standardized furniture design would allow work stations to move anywhere in the building.

    Energy-Efficiency in Tomorrow's Schools
    A school doesn't have to look like a spaceship to offer the kind of technological resources students need. Winners in an Open Architecture Network proposed comfortable, energy-efficient school designs that blend with their environments.

    See Winning School Designs.

    Planning Tomorrow's Schools:

    Dutch-born designer Rosan Bosch has become well-known for building schools of flexible learning spaces. When Rosan Bosch Studio received a commission to build a new school in Stockholm, Sweden, she consulted with the occupants, as any good architect might do. Teachers and children were consulted before building Vittra Telefonpla in 2011. Bosch bristles when it's called a "school without walls," which was a somewhat failed building design in the 1960s and 1970s. It is without classrooms, she admits, but the interior has defined spaces with "identity markers" that function in five ways:

    • Mountain Top (one way communication, like a lecture area)
    • Cave (solitary concentration, but not isolation)
    • Camp Fire (group discussions)
    • Watering Hole (high-level disturbance and flexible interactions of many kinds)
    • Hands On (movement necessary; soundproofing sometimes necessary)

    A large "mountain" is at the center of the school. It's interior is a more isolated media room. Every child has a laptop computer in this school, which was specifically designed with this technology in mind. The children said they needed a space that allowed more than one person at a time to look at a computer screen, so colorful multi-level shapes were created for group viewing. The architecture reflects an environment attractive to the main occupants—the children. Learn more about this school at

    No one knows for certain what the future will bring.

    New technologies and revised theories of teaching could make the best-laid plans obsolete. How can we design better schools for tomorrow? Just do it.

    Learn More:

    Source: Designing for a better world starts at school: Rosan Bosch at TEDxIndianapolis, YouTube Published on Nov 17, 2013 [accessed April 26, 2016]

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    Your Citation
    Craven, Jackie. "School Architecture and Design - What Works?" ThoughtCo, Oct. 17, 2016, Craven, Jackie. (2016, October 17). School Architecture and Design - What Works? Retrieved from Craven, Jackie. "School Architecture and Design - What Works?" ThoughtCo. (accessed November 21, 2017).