Monday, January 23, 2012

The Stockholm Syndrome: the Perfect School Design?

My friend H sent me this article about the "school of the future" in Stockholm.


Our future? I actually hope not. It is a beautiful design to look at, but anytime we have a huge open space, it reminds me of the open areas of the 70s. Sure the 70s had great designs: big bell-bottom pants, the AMC Pacer, and mutton-chop side burns.  And this school may be great in theory, but difficult in practice. Perhaps our way of teaching had evolved to make it work better, but just the noise level alone would drive me bonkers.
Imagine a kindergarten room during centres. Now multiply the students and space to accommodate an entire school. Now increase the ceiling height and remove anything soft (like walls and furniture) to harness the sound. This is how I imagine the Stockholm school to be (which reminds me of the library in the newest school in my district).
Yeah, Stockholm isn't Canada. Sure we have a lot in common: cold weather, great looking people, and Ikeas all over the place; but looking at this design suggests we have different needs.  Those cold Swedes. Not like the huggable Canadians.

I didn't realize how choosy I've become in my design.  Though I have misgivings about the Stockholm school, it does have a lot of merits: spaces for congregating and working together, sleek design elements, a non-traditional look, and kid-friendly fixtures. 
And it gets me thinking what my own idea of a perfect school would be.  Off the top of my head, one element I would like would be wall sections that slide on tracks.  It would be like the Japanese idea in terms of flexibility (yes, the F word) so that we could transform spaces depending on need.  I would NOT make them out of paper.  It seems so weird to have walls that are paper thin (and made of carbs?) because I'd want less noise transfer.

I still like the idea of the campfire, the watering hole, and the cave.  People need a "campfire" area to gather in large groups.  Think: theatre or hall.  We need a forum for our whole community to meet.  They also need a "watering hole" to gather in partners or small groups.  Think how people gather around the watercooler, coffee machine, buffet table or even a non-food area.  Think of how many great ideas that have sprung up in such informal networking places.  The "cave" is extremely important.  Sometimes, creative people especially, need to hole up and seclude themselves from others, free from outside distractions.  Think of how kids will sit under their desks and tables to get away from others when they need to get something done.  Students are always burrowing under the risers or behind rolling shelves in my class.  I get that, and I am looking for more ways to accommodate them. (I think this is why iPods are so popular.  We create an artificial force field of sound that separates us from people on the bus, the noise of the street, our parents, etc.).

Hmmm.  I've gone from classroom design to school design.  Isn't one revolution enough?