Co.Design

Wanna Improve Education? Demolish the Classrooms

A school without walls encourages interactive learning.

"Education is experience, and the essence of experience is self-reliance."
--T.H. White, The Once and Future King

Who removed the classrooms? Apparently, the Danish government did. In 2005, the Danish government established a new vision for the secondary school reform. This pedagogical reform boldly promotes innovation and self-directed learning in the Danish education system by recognizing this millennium's shift to an ideas-based global economy.

3XN, an architectural firm based in Copenhagen, responded to the government's vision by creating a radically different learning environment for Ørestad College. Organized around a central staircase and atrium, the boomerang-shaped floor plates spin and shift like a camera shutter to create four distinct learning zones. The rotating floor plates create a horizontal flow of spaces, which seems infinite given the transparency of the exterior skin and the central atrium's verticality.

3XN's design for Ørestad College is a novel interpretation of agility and openness where the architecture complies with the pedagogy of individualized and interdisciplinary learning. The prototypical factory model with its self-contained classrooms is replaced by an environment that features a diversity of spaces that flow into one another. The design promotes reflective, collaborative learning that mimics the way teenagers think, learn and socialize.

In designing for teaching and learning, I am continually asking myself the following questions:

1. What does a third millennium learning environment look like?

2. If we eliminate the double-loaded corridor, how does circulation occur?

3. What does a truly collaborative learning environment feel like?

4. How do we design a learning environment that supports the biological rhythm of teenagers?

5. How do we eliminate the computer lab and decentralize information and communication technologies (ICT) to enrich the digital media environment?

Well, I've found the answer--Ørestad College. They got it right.

For more of our coverage of 3XN's work, click here.

For more images of the school, check out Dezeen.

[All images © Adam Mørk / 3XN]

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4 Comments

  • Mariel

    Its hard to achieve the right balance between social, sustainable, and educational environments. I have visited this school and saw countless opportunities for distraction. Beyond the open atrium in the middle, with the picturesque views of the round meeting areas, there are classrooms surrounded by glass. There is a nice transparency here, as you are able to see and be inspired by those working, but you realize that your presence has adverse effects on the students for they can also see you. Is there a way to create a collaborative learning environment that is not detrimental to a student's focus?

  • Blythe

    I attended an American high school "without walls" in the 90s. I believe it was called "open concept." My school even had the curved staircase like the one in this photo. But by the time I was a senior, the school was putting the walls back up.... The problem with my school was that while the architecture changed, the teaching and learning styles didn't.

    We can't expect change to happen in education just by changing the design of a building. If the teachers and students in this school explore new ways of learning, then it might work. If not, then I don't doubt that they'll be adding walls in the near future.

    I love this idea, and it might actually succeed because I think educators are now open to the idea of collaborative learning. Perhaps my school was a bit ahead of its time.

  • Daniel Karpantschof

    One should probably note that the link for a new vision is a video from the government board of investments and tourism.

    When it comes to education the Danish public school system ranks as one of the worst in the world when calculating every dollar spent and one of the worst in Europe when comparing GPAs.

  • Marilyn Oliva

    I love design and I am also always questioning the best methods for learning, given that the traditional system seems to lack so much. So, your post was right up my alley. Thanks for sharing.