Unorthodox ideas about school architecture are taking root in Canada – again. This fall, three new open concept-style elementary schools will open their doors, each incorporating quirky design elements like garage doors and Olympic-sized classrooms.
These buildings herald either a new era in school design or an unfortunate case of history repeating itself. Their designs either promote collaboration and creative thinking, or distraction and chaos, depending on who you ask.
Similar ideas about school design were popular in the late sixties. It’s estimated that – based on U.S. studies – at the peak of the movement, between 1967 and 1969, as many as half of all the schools were open concept.
By the eighties, though, teachers were improvising their own walls with bookshelves and other furniture. The consensus was that students struggled to maintain focus in a space resembling a giant one-roomed schoolhouse, so most, if not all, of Canada’s open-concept schools have since been retrofitted at the expense of taxpayers’ dollars.
Back to the past
Thirty years and a digital revolution later, a handful of architecture firms are dusting off old ideas and re-inventing them for a generation of students destined for an Internet-saturated workplace. One U.S.-based firm resurrecting the open-concept model, Fielding Nair International, is touting it as a way to promote critical thinking, collaboration and flexibility amongst students.