Architectural Quality in School Buildings

Architectural Quality in School Buildings: School Building Design and its Relevance to Students’ Learning Performance – with a Specific Focus on the Planning and Design of Schools in Developing Countries

12th Architecture & Behaviour Colloquium
March 30-April 1, 2006, Monte Verità, Ascona, Switzerland

The XII Architecture & Behaviour Colloquium took place in Monte Verita (Ascona, Switzerland) from March 29 to April 1 and was a very productive meeting. Its theme was Architectural Quality in School Buildings: School Building Design and its Relevance to Students’ Learning Performance – With a Specific Focus on the Planning and Design of Schools in Developing Countries  

The Colloquium was the twelfth in a series of meetings of which several have been devoted to architectural issues related to cultural contexts outside Europe. This Colloquium brought together academic researchers and architects from Europe and America, furthermore representatives from the Ministries of Education and School construction from Middle East countries (in this case Yemen, Jordania, Egypt and the Palestine territories) as well as experts from organisations subsidising the construction of schools in developing countries (World Bank, Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW), European Investment Bank, Swiss Development and Cooperation). The group of about 30 persons discussed intensively and passionately during three days in the magnificent surroundings of the Ticino Canton overlooking Lake Maggior.

The specific theme of the Colloquium can be rephrased in questions. Should we be concerned about how buildings look, how they work and are used by pupils and teachers in contexts where usually the priority is simply to be able to offer basic school training for youngsters? Is building quality a luxury in situations where the first challenge is just to find spaces where youngsters can be taught?

The issue of the interrelationship between school buildings and the level of students’ scholarly performances has been the topic of studies in the social sciences for a number of years. Research is being done at universities and institutes across Europe and North America and the debate is of considerable interest to both scientists and practitioners. Yet the impact of such research is uncertain. Some pedagogical approaches, such as those followed by Rudolf Steiner schools, do explicitly acknowledge and integrate the influence of the characteristics of buildings (e.g. colours and shapes) in their teaching programmes. But “ordinary” schools?

All will agree that architects, education administrators and funding agencies can only profit by getting updated information about the relationship between school architecture and pupils’ achievements so that informed decisions are made and good choices done when allocating funds and implementing projects. It is certainly worth not only to have in mind general standards and minimum technical requirements in designing schools but also to have a view on the influence of the built environment on the human psyche and about its impact on social behaviour. The question is also of relevance to developing countries, where scarce resources need to be carefully spent.

The 12th Architecture & Behaviour Colloquium originated at the suggestion of Eberhard Knapp, consultant for KfW and involved in assessing school construction programmes in developing countries around the world. He thought it would be useful to bring together researchers and representatives of instances implicated in decision making about and building of new schools. Kaj Noschis, responsible for the Architecture & Behaviour Colloquiums, was eager to follow up on this theme. It became teamwork. When the Call for contributions was launched the organisers, Noschis and Knapp, got some responses from researchers directly involved in assessing the impact of the built school environment on learning. But they also got responses from several researchers and architects involved in experiments on school building with the tenet that “quality matters”. Thus the group of participants became fourfold. Not only were there (1) representatives from funding agencies, (2) administrators from countries involved in such school construction programmes as well as (3) academic researchers with results on pupils’ performances’ evaluation in different physical school environments but now also (4) architects showing through their experiences in the field how “quality” had become part of their projects.

Thus as organisers of the Colloquium we built a programme where these four voices would be heard and have the opportunity to be confronted. The Colloquium itself saw short formal presentations from most participants and these were regularly followed by intensive debates. Country teaching programme administrators would offer statistical data and general basic pedagogical aims. Survey results, pedagogical experiences as well as concrete obstacles and challenges met in the field by the concerned actors would then be presented, often pointing to exciting changes when “quality” had been taken into account. In addition the scientific research results presented brought evidence that the built environment is an important factor in enhancing learning. Yet, considerations on the social realities of the different country contexts would question the sense of giving priority to such matters in school construction. The pressure for just offering a basic school education to the largest possible number of children is all dominant. Funding agencies would express their dilemmas by referring to their own contrasting experiences.

To sum up, strongly contrasting views were expressed during the Colloquium, all backed by data and coherent arguments:

  • School buildings are of secondary importance. The headmaster, teachers and their relation to pupils are the essential factors of a successful school and learning programme. (A research-report from OECD also took this view).
  • Culturally and climatically well thought school buildings and schoolyards do greatly improve the possibilities for a successful school and learning programme.

–           Experiences involving the concerned actors (teachers, parents, pupils) in planning and construction of schools and schoolyards improve the possibilities for successful school and learning programmes.

Anyhow lively discussions developed and were considered useful to the point of evoking the opening of an internet forum and blog where the debate initiated in Monte Verita might go on. The intention is to maintain a site where the experiences (past, present and future) of the different actors might be presented (also accompanied by  plans and statistical data) and  be openly debated on-line. A further project is to summarise results from this experience in a new colloquium in some time.

As a first step the Proceedings of the Colloquium will be published in the Architecture & Behaviour series. Publication is foreseen late this year. Finally let it be reminded that the organisation of the XII Architecture & Behaviour Colloquium was made possible by subsidies mainly from Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau, Swiss Development and Cooperation and the Canton of Ticino and it is hoped that these same organisations could become partners in the internet site project.

Enquiries and contact:

Dr. Kaj Noschis

Architecture & Behaviour Colloquiums

Colloquia sàrl


1015 Lausanne, Switzerland


Phone: +41 (0)21 693 83 59 or direct: +41 (0)21 323 10 56

List of participants:

Ahmad Al-Tashi, AED/Equip 1, Sana’a, Yemen

Sabria Al-Thawr, AED/Equip 1, Sana’a, Yemen

Didier Bosman, European Investment Bank, Luxembourg

Beatriz Fedrizzi, University of Rio Grande, Porto Alegre, Brazil

Mitra Hedman, Oslo School of Architecture, Oslo, Norway

Mohamed Nabil Helmy, General Authority of Educational Buildings, Cairo, Egypt

Christopher Horn, archis gmbh, Karlsruhe, Germany

Eberhard Knapp, KfW-Bankengruppe, Frankfurt, Germany

Bernhard Kogel, University of Würzburg, Würzberg, Germany

Ziyad Kollab, Ministry of Education + Higher Educ. Gaza, Palestine

Walter Kuoni, Lippsmeier Partner, architects, Nairobi, Kenya

Pirkko-Liisa Lintilä, Colloquia Sàrl, Lausanne, Switzerland

Osama Maghaydah, Governmental School Buildings, Amman, Jordania

Fawaz Mujahed, Ministry of Education + Higher Educ. Ramallah, Palestine

Kaj Noschis, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne, Switzerland

Celen Pasalar, North Carolina State University, United States

Pascal Peter, Kocks Consultants, Koblenz, Germany

Ueli Salzmann, Swiss Development and Cooperation Agency, Bern, Switzerland

Henry Sanoff, North Carolina State University, United States

Enrico Sassi, Università della Svizzera Italiana, Lugano, Switzerland

Susanne Schroth*), KfW-Bankengruppe, Frankfurt, Germany

Horst Schönig, Billo + Shönig Architek, Berlin, Germany

Kirtee Shah, KSA Design & Planning Services, Ahmedabad, India

Hatem Zaghloul Attia Shalaby, Design Department, GAEB, Cairo, Egypt

Nicole Simon, Cornell University, Ithaca, United States

Yolande Steijns, Technische Universität, Delft, Netherlands

Hannah Von Ahlefeld*), OECD, Paris, France

Michael Wilson, World Bank, United States

Stephan Wunderlich, European Investment Bank, Luxembourg

(*) unable to attend.