November 10, 2016 7 min to read

School Design- A valuable indicator for school performance

Category : Innovation

Author: Ms. Meghna Dutta

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‘The process of imparting education is more important and not the physicality of the space in which it is imparted’ is how the traditional rationale for school design has been. Many schools excelled in perfecting this process but research showed that it was not enough for the wholesome development of a child to an adult. As schools evolved and processes of imparting adopted more scientific methods to analyze the impact of these processes, it led to the realization that well designed spaces augmented the experience of education and had a positive impact on a child’s psyche and development.

A building is not just an enclosure, but the concrete translation of the vision and the aspirations of the School. A well designed campus with the right balance of built & open spaces can inspire, energize and have many positive influences on a child. The architecture of an educational facility becomes an interface as well as an extension of the kind of education the facility will be known for.

Few of the accepted Key Performance Indicators(KPI) for a School are
1. Facilities
2. Student’s well-being
3. Health and Safety
4. Community Engagement
5. Quality of Education
6. Curriculum and Extracurricular activities
7. Fees and Financial Management of School
8. Cultural Identity


Design has a direct impact on many of the performance indicators listed above. In the times we live in, there is a global perspective to how we interpret culture and tradition. With a ‘world is flat’ phenomenon it is important that an educational building performs as a receptacle for contemporary ideas yet reflect a sense of tradition and culture endemic to the DNA of a geographical location. Hence, architects are trying to contemporize traditional ideas and design schools with a new language which allows the school to be the receptacle of change and progress. Focal elements and insertions at various points can sensitize an end user to the cultural underpinnings and identity of a society.

Innovation and encouraging students to think outside the box is of key importance to any school. The language adopted for the built elements of a school building, should also encourage curiosity, innovation and critical thinking of the world around them. Designs which allows spaces to transform into multi-functionary spaces is critical. For example, a corridor is not just a space to traverse from one classroom to another, but should be envisioned as a significant space where young minds exchange ideas, foster conversations which may lead to out of the box thinking.

With respect to student health and safety, architecture plays an important role. For instance, with regards to safety, areas which are only artificially lit and have minimal visual connection with the common spaces, are areas that will be prone to encourage mischief amongst students. With regards to student health, maintaining the minimum standards of indoor air quality in the classrooms is key to ensure children don’t fall sick. Ensuring good natural daylight and natural ventilation uplifts the spirit of the children.

Few of the key elements which we think are critical for successful design of a school are listed as Salient Design Features below.

Salient Design Features
1. Planning Principles:
Schools should have clarity in circulation and built spaces needs to be made easily accessible along circulation spines. Classrooms and circulation spaces dominate the program of a school and hence becomes the focus of our architectural attention. The alignment of the classrooms to maximize north light and the position of the long corridors in the front to minimize exposure to southern heat can make it a dominant canvas for expression. Clear definition of spaces is an important criterion for privacy and maintenance.

2. Movement and Progression
The design can be conceptualized and developed around these two elements. The education process as visualized by us is in a state of flux and movement. The building can be conceived to be dynamic in form so as to induce a sense of movement. The master plan can be conceptualized so as to have the different school blocks placed in accordance to the hierarchy of the education system.

The form of the building is representational of an idea where the corridor is the longest single architectural element of the building and how the building navigates around the corridors reflects the symbolic progressive movement within the school. The sense of movement can be brought about by the dynamism of the form, the orientation of the perforations in the walls, railing designs, the columns, the staircase and various other details.

3. Playfulness
The school needs to invoke a sense of intrigue through the geometry and induce the child to explore the various spaces in the building as well as within the classrooms. Fenestrations in the classrooms should be designed with varying size and types. One can serve as a step out balcony at a child’s height and another can serve as a ledge to sit. Vision glazing should be provided at both the child’s and adults level. The child should be able to step in and out between the built and unbuilt spaces with ease through the perforations in the building envelope.

4. Corridor
The Corridor is a significant element which is necessary in the design of any school. The intent should be to move away from the conventional system of corridors which are long, monotonous and lack a sense of intrigue as well as playfulness.

We propose that the corridor be designed to continuously change in dimensions in all three axes, unfolding as a series of spaces with varying purposes and functions. The idea is to envision the corridor as a space where small groups of congregation can happen by chance, and as a space which entices a child to move forward and explore the unknown beyond.

5. Framing of Views
It is absolutely imperative for us to understand the surroundings of the site and capture it as visual frames. The views from the corridors, classrooms & corners of the building should be framed. Framing of views along the corridor can psychologically reduce the experience of the travel length of the corridor.

A Sustainable approach is equally important to enhance the quality of spaces for an Institution.

Sustainable Building Principles

1. Orientation: Building should preferably be oriented in the East West Axis so as to ensure all classrooms get daylight from the Northern and diffused light from the Southern Facades. For a completely naturally ventilated building the east west orientation can be adopted so as to reduce the heat gain and subsequent cooling required. If an east west orientation is not possible then north light skylights can be provided to bring in north light in the classrooms.

2. Day lighting and ventilation: Windows of varying sizes can be explored on the northern wall to provide for ample daylight. Glazing should be at child’s level and at an adult’s level. Each classroom should also be provided with clerestory glazing where possible. The combination of daylight glazing and vision glazing gives ample lighting for each classroom and thus reduces the use of artificial light. Clerestory openings also provide for outlet of stack effect and circulation in the classrooms. Windows should be provided on south and north walls of each classroom to ensure adequate cross ventilation.

3. Regional Materials: As a responsible design practice we recommend to maximize use of regional materials. A conscious effort should be made to ensure that most of the materials used have been sourced within 500 kms radius so as to reduce transportation distances of materials and in turn reduce consumption of fossil fuel.

4. Reduced Site Disturbance: Effort to minimize disturbing the contours as well as the existing landscape should be made. Open spaces between buildings should be maximized to ensure adequate lighting and ventilation to all buildings.

To conclude the role of design in the architecture of schools should not be underestimated. Schools are communities where the minds of the next generations are shaped. This is where they learn values and ethics. Various studies have shown that quality of space can improve the learning & progress of students by 10 to 15 percent. They not only enable the student’s performance to be bettered, but also enable the teachers to perform better.
It is not enough to design a building which provides natural light and ventilation. The architecture of the school most importantly should invoke a sense of belonging, a sense of pride, inspire and motivate and make the child want to come back to inhabit these spaces day after day!

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