Monday, April 24, 2017

ODD BITS: Do schools with design pizzazz improve learning?

Jazzy and alluring -- 
but does this environment encourage learning?

School Barvaux-Condroz by LR Architects, Barvaux-Condroz, Belgium

I recently attended the 75th anniversary of my much-loved elementary school in 
upstate New York. Architecturally, there was nothing particularly interesting about the building. It was your standard post-war brick and cement structure, with generic 
desks and classrooms, and a large nondescript playground in back. 
Luckily for us, there was a wooded trail behind the school that led to 
a homemade ice cream shop! With peanut butter and jelly ice cream!
(And 5¢ lime green daiquiris -- I wonder what was in them.)

But ah, the teachers. We were blessed to have the most caring and enthusiastic 
group of teachers a child could hope for. They inspired us to reach for the stars;
my closest elementary school friends formed a coterie that 
went on to become musicians, actors, fine woodworkers, writers, 
a cabaret singer, a jeweler, a sculptor, a boat builder, 
and an advocate for libraries. They came from a simple, 
no fuss environment, the Slingerlands Elementary School, pictured above.

Today's popular educational theories profess
that the built environment has a profound effect on children's imaginations.
It very well may; but perhaps unusual architecture pleases the parents
more than it does the children. 

Whatever you believe, it's fun to see what's going on with school architecture 
in the 21st century. Below are some recently conceived designs from around the world.

Kindergarten Kekec by Architektura Jure Kotnik, Ljubjana, Slovenia

The colorful, imaginative design of this prefab 1980s building is a response to the school's unfortunate lack of play equipment.The exterior walls are made of "toy slats", natural wooden planks that the kids can   play with to "get to know different colors, experience wood as a natural material 
and constantly change the appearance of their  kindergarten,   
all at the same time." 

A UK government spokesman quoted in design magazine asserts that
"There is no convincing evidence that spending enormous sums of money on school buildings leads to increased attainment. An excellent curriculum, great leadership and inspirational teaching are the keys to driving up standards.” 

Central Los Angeles Area High School #9 for the Visual and Performing Arts 
by Coop Himmelblau -- Los Angeles, California

Located just off the Hollywood freeway, this public arts school is known according to the Los Angeles Times "for its stunning cone-shaped library, a soaring lobby opening onto Grand Avenue, a 140-foot tower rising above a 950-seat theater, and giant, circular windows. Granted, all this grandeur comes with a hefty price tag that's spawned an ongoing debate over a campus that flaunts a district's-worth of design at one site."
Timaynta Marta, Coazz
anti  Bailly School Complex by Mikou Design Studio, Saint-Denis, France

The boldly colorful Bailly School refers to itself as a "learning complex." 
Movement between classrooms is through a series of interior courtyards, 
allowing children to get fresh air between classes, and to have 
a refreshing experience of the outdoors during an otherwise enclosed school day.

Kindergarten by Eva Samuel Architect Urbanist & Associates, Paris, France

I would have loved going to this school!
It's been described as a "big, pink-frosted building full
of magical, child-sized playhouses."
(Huffington Post, 1/3/13)

Bonus pic of my favorite/only childhood Mid-Mod  hangout

The legendary Toll Gate, provided a tasty and wholesome
 hideaway for generations of children and teenagers
Established 1949, closed 2017
Photo credit: Times Union, Albany


  1. I both agree and disagree with you. I would put teachers' salaries before expensive design projects, but there's no good reason we can't have both! Thanks for a thought-provoking and colorful posting.

  2. Hi Margaret, I'm with you; I don't really know what to make of this phenomenon. As a design aficionado, I love the colors and shapes and imaginative use of materials. But I am all too aware of the "starchitect" phenomenon, which often puts designers' egos ahead of utility or beauty. One of my favorite museums in New England was ruined by a "starchitect", who blocked off the bucolic mountain views with giant cement walls! I call it "Tiananmen Square chic."