Reinventing the Schoolhouse

Futuristic, pretty, handmade, techie, and minimalist schools make high school look more fun than it really is.  

Not that anyone in his or her right mind would want to repeat high school. Pretending that you could, however, might the innovative architecture of these structures make it a more compelling proposition? Or is the glossy new coat of contemporary schoolhouse design simply that? A pretty, but impractical cape.

Ecco Eco founder and textile artist Abigail Doan veers towards the latter. She and her husband send their kids to a modest school in Sofia, Bulgaria. “There is no campus per se, but a lovely neighborhood building,” she explains. “What makes [a school] exceptional, frankly, is the spirit of family involvement…not necessarily a feeling of ‘elitism’ based on higher learning housed in state-of-the art buildings or sleek classrooms.”

Like a good book or beautiful person, it’s the inside that counts. In the case of school, the curriculum. Nevertheless, using pure aesthetics as a litmus, here are a dozen schoolhouses that rock.

Vittra School Telefonplan turned to Danish studio Rosan Bosch to create a school without classroom walls. As observed by PSFK, it looks like Google HQ – engaging, creative, ergonomically dashing and kind of enviable. Oh, to be a kid again (who happens to live in Stockholm). It must be noted, however: kids at the real Google school are not nearly as plugged in as the kids in these photos.

The two-story Sydney Centre for Innovation and Learning is full of nooks and crannies with clever names like the Brainforest, the Parklands, the Glasshouse and Greenhouse, the Sandpit (a place for concentration), the Bridge and Deck, and the Loft (for seniors only). There are no formal desks and chairs; the exterior, designed as series of sharp corners and sheltered spaces, give it a boat-like appearance.

The Penleigh and Essendon Junior Boys School in Melbourne is in a residential area dominated by Federation and Italianate mansions. A recent project by McBride Charles Ryan resulted in giving the school this striking façade. A true “building of imagination.”

Copenhagen. Of course. Ørestad College (which is the Danish version of high school) is airy and contemporary with dashes of colorful transparent glass that rotate automatically with the sun. It also features “swirling staircases” and “platforms upon which students lounge on big orange pillows.”

Local craftsmen, pupils and teachers built the Handmade School in the rural Bangladeshi village of Rudrapur, alongside other artisans and volunteers.

Located on the largest of the Canary Islands (Tenerife), Rafael Arozarena High School melds in well with its surroundings, meant to represent a mound of volcanic rock. Designed by AMP Arquitectos, it features a concrete exterior treated in a wash of “chameleon-like” tones.

This contemporary structure was designed by Austrian design firm Coop Himmelb(l)au and bears a likeness to Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. It houses High School #9 in Central Los Angeles and is a public high school for the visual and performing arts.

Canning Vale High School in Perth, Australia was designed to reflect its teaching philosophy: embracing a more “complex, open and adaptive society common to the 21st century.”

Originally a simple maintenance project, firm Lemieux and Smith Vigeant Architects Collective ended up completely renovating this secondary school in Quebec, Canada. Yes, that is a rock climbing wall at the far end of the basketball court.

Martinkallio School in Helsinki was designed as a compact rectangular structure to minimize its impact on the wooded terrain that surrounds it.

The Facilitair Centrum Niekée in the Netherlands is a colorful bubble-wrapped school replete with open decks for large group teaching and hanging skyboxes for smaller seminars.

The allure of going to school in Switzerland starts with the scenery. Peeking inside of the upper school in Thusis, located on a plateau between the town and a river, Swiss neutrality with a dash of Eastern minimalism makes the grade.

Images: Rosan Bosch; Web Urbanist; Imagine School Design

K. Emily Bond

K. Emily Bond is the Shelter Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in southern Spain, reporting on trends in art, design, sustainable living and lifestyle.