The pandemic has highlighted the importance of designing buildings where the relationship with nature is reinforced and where outdoor and indoor spaces are more connected to each other.
In this context, primary importance should be given to educational buildings. Around the world, in these weeks many schools have just re-opened or are going to re-open soon after the great lockdown. Many protocols have been developed by National Governments in order to make the return to school possible, even in buildings that were not designed to facilitate physical distancing. The schools of the future will have to be designed under a new point of view: rather than just considering criteria of sustainability, they will have to embrace the ability-to-sustain the new condition where the pandemic put the entire society in.
Thanks to the possibility given by the ‘smart working’, one of the post-covid consequences had been the relocation of the mass of people from big cities to less dense areas. This phenomenon puts the accent on the importance of requalifying those areas, that have been forgotten so far. In these circumstances, the concept model of the school of the future has to be enlarged to a bigger scale: we should start thinking about educational buildings where several schools are combined (kindergarten, primary and secondary school) still maintaining their own independence. Not only this. The community center, an urban plaza, a café, and a library should be included and offered as spaces for the entire community: the building is operable 24h and becomes an important civic reference and the beginning and opportunity for the requalification of suburbs and rural areas.
Considering these aspects, the proposed design provides a modular educational center that can include all the phases of the educational process: Kindergarten, Primary, and Secondary schools. All the required spaces are fitted into two rings: the massing articulation allows us to create two courtyards and an additional usable roof. The classrooms are located in the circle and have connections to the courtyards and the outdoor landscape. Each module, of 55 sqm, is made of cross-laminated timber and corresponds to an ideal classroom of 20/25 students connected by a central corridor. The building is designed as a ‘tree-house’ and it is distributed through multiple levels, where also roofs are usable and where indoor and outdoor spaces are combined allowing high flexibility for educational activities.
The main idea is to create a school that is suspended and immerses in nature, as a house tree, where the relationship with nature is physically and visibly increased. This is possible thanks to the faceted façade, made by the alternation of solid timber panels and glazing panels. The circular perimeter allows us to block the direct sunlight with the opaque panels, and get diffuse light and free view through the transparent ones. The school of the future has to be energy self-sufficient. The educational building adopts several sustainable devices as rainwater collections, natural cross-ventilation, and photovoltaic panels, wind energy devices, all located on the higher roof. At this level, accessible by the scholars, are exhibited all the sustainable devices that the school utilizes in order to reduce energy consumptions.
Sustainability becomes part of the educational experience of the children, who have their first approach to this theme through the building itself. The modularity of the design allows for future school extension, different programs, different numbers of classrooms, and also can be adapted to create different functions, such as temporary medical centers for emergencies or temporary residential units. The school of the future has to be sustainable and, at the same time, able to sustain the new post-covid requirements. It has to be outdoor spaces inclusive and open to nature, made of natural materials, and low-cost construction techniques, as a modular design. It has to be highly flexible with the ability to adapt to different functions and programs and provide several benefits to the whole community, becoming the incipit for the requalification of peripheral urban areas.
Design: Valentino Gareri
Parametric modeling: Mirco Bianchini
Frontal & Roof views: Winston Wu
Images with courtesy of Valentino Gareri