Schools are institutions of learning; so they have been since the dawn of ancient civilizations. That said, schools nowadays bear little resemblance to their predecessors, particularly in term of scope. Modern society demands much more from schools. Simply filling the minds of our young with facts is not enough.
The shifting values in modern society is partly to blame for this change. It’s especially evident in young families living in large metropolises. If both parents are away from home for most of the day, then it only follows that their children will receive education more at school than at home. In consequence, a school’s quality becomes more than just a proverbial yardstick. Schools take a larger role, shaping not only the mind, but also the character of their students.
More and more schools are trying to answer these demands. A modern school does not depend solely on curriculum or a solid team of educators. For a successful learning experience, a good learning condition is no less vital. A school needs to be a place where its students feel comfortable—not only to study, but also to socialise and and take those first small steps toward finding themselves.
Sitting smack in the middle of an up-and-coming industrial estate means that The Atelier has to be more than just a school. It has to be an oasis, a place where children can feel at ease despite the constant construction activities that pester the neighborhood.
To achieve this purpose, Biome Environmental Solutions has designed The Atelier along rather unconventional lines. Instead of boxed-in classrooms between four rigid walls, the school introduces flowing, curvilinear walls of varying heights to divide the main area into classrooms and communal spaces. The slightly labyrinthine design is deliberate, allowing students to get lost in it as well as encouraging them to explore and discover different things in different parts of the school.
Another unique aspect of The Atelier is in the materials used to construct the school. Handcrafted materials such as bamboo mats are used in abundance, for their artistic values as much as their practical uses. Not only that, in a neighborhood where building and rebuilding are the norm, it is important that the school can be easily transposed, should the need ever arise. Therefore, the design team chooses economical and easily recoverable materials such as paver blocks for the flooring, paper tube partitions for walls, metal sheets and pinewood for the exterior, and sliding glass for windows. Supporting the roofs are eight columns of bolted steel, taking the form of branching trees—both symbolic and practical, everything The Atelier represents.
Lakeland Elementary is a prime example of the ongoing efforts to revolutionize public schools in the USA. One of its approaches is by going back to the basic, to what an elementary school should look like. Gone are the grey concrete walls and gloomy interiors; instead, bright colors are evident in every corner of the school, from the bold pink and blue façade to the red ceilings of the outdoor play area and green walls of the classrooms.
With DLR Group at the architectural helm, Lakeland Elementary seeks to make learning a dynamic and enjoyable process. The school is designed to accommodate around 400 students and includes six major buildings, each using a different color theme. These buildings house classrooms and learning spaces of different sizes and aspects but no specific purposes, allowing much flexibility in the study process. One of the few which are tailored for a specialized function is the literary commons, a large airy space which offers not only a great selection of books but also bookshelves that double as reading nooks.
Classrooms and book-learning, however, are not all there is. Comfortable break-out areas are dotted among the classrooms, allowing students to chill out and talk in small groups during break periods. Large windows are everywhere to ensure plenty of sunlight as well as offer a generous view to the surrounding wooded area. Between the cafeteria and the music room is a wall that can be moved, allowing for performances in front of an audience.
Photos by Vivek Muthuramalingam, Chris J. Roberts Photography