Better school buildings post corona

The corona pandemic has impacted children’s schooling badly and required a string of stopgap measures. However, new schools are better designed for handling pandemics.

This is the conclusion drawn by Marie Berg, who is responsible for new school construction in the Municipality of Gothenburg in Sweden.

In addition, a Danish architect is proposing improvements that can equip schools for future pandemics.

There is no doubt that the corona pandemic has negatively impacted schooling. During lockdowns, children and young people have felt lonely while stuck in front of their computers at home because of school closures. Online teaching has not been a satisfactory substitute for classroom-based lessons. And many pupils have fallen behind academically.

But will the corona pandemic come to influence how we build schools in future?

“It’s still too early to say whether the corona pandemic will come to influence the way we build schools here in Sweden. My immediate thought is that the impact of the pandemic will be less dramatic than one might assume,” says Marie Berg, a project manager in the Municipality of Gothenburg, and responsible for new school construction.

She underlines the fact that Swedish schools have definitely not been equipped as well as they could have been to deal with a global pandemic. For example, most schools have struggled to organise suitable facilities for hand-washing and sanitising.

On the other hand, Marie Berg believes that the trend within school construction in Sweden was heading in a more pandemic-safe direction even before the corona pandemic swept the world:

“Looking as brand-new schools, there was already a trend in Sweden towards creating better toilet and hygiene facilities,” she says, and mentions the relatively new lower secondary school Lundbyskolan in Gothenburg, where the canteen has been arranged so it can easily be sanitised before the pupils sit down for lunch.

Varied learning spaces and digital readiness

Likewise, even before the pandemic, there was a move towards designing schools with many different learning spaces for pupils.

“This will also make it easier in future to shift the teaching elsewhere at the school and to make better use of the available space so that any distance requirements can be complied with,” says Marie Berg.

Furthermore, before the pandemic, schools were already being better prepared for the increased use of online teaching.

“In all administrative rooms we now install big screens so that we can hold Teams meetings or do online teaching. Another example is our home economics classrooms. They have kitchen arrangements for pupils as well as a demonstration kitchen which the teacher can use to explain what is being taught. These demonstration kitchens have traditionally featured a mirror to allow the pupils to see what the teacher is doing, but it is also possible to install a video camera so pupils can follow the lesson on their computers,” Marie Berg explains.

She adds that this benefits pupils who may be sent home because of a raised risk of infection, as well as children who are at home due to school fatigue etc.

Experience from Denmark: Wish list for corona-safe schools

In Denmark, the corona pandemic has revealed shortcomings in the way that many schools are organised. This is the conclusion drawn by Britta Hjuler, an architect and partner at Pluskontoret Arkitekter A/S. She has many years of experience in the field of children and learning. According to her, future school renovations and new schools should take account of a number of factors.

#1 Better hygiene

Even before the pandemic, poor toilet facilities were frequently highlighted in occupational health and safety surveys conducted among school pupils. The pandemic has attracted further attention to the importance of hygiene in schools. Enough facilities are needed for hand-washing, and a good indoor climate is also important:

“The Danish Health Authority recommends one toilet for every 10-15 pupils, depending on their ages. Unfortunately, at many schools the existing facilities support neither a healthy indoor climate nor good hygiene standards, and toilet capacity is often inadequate,” says Britta Hjuler.

#2 More outdoor teaching

During the pandemic, most schools have been forced to move some of their teaching outside. It has – both literally and figuratively – provided a breath of fresh air, but according to Britta Hjuler, there is no reason why schools cannot organise outdoor spaces to cater more effectively for outdoor lessons:

“Natural gathering places outdoors are needed. It’s important to have spaces that are sheltered from the elements and with a worktop, and where it’s possible to come together for longer periods of time as a base for outdoor teaching activities. In this way, the outdoor spaces can become as integral a part of the school as any other specialist classrooms,” she says.

#3 Space for varied teaching

There has long been a desire to rethink the traditional classroom. Not least because research shows that children thrive better and learn more if they don’t have to sit on a chair and stare at the blackboard all day. This need has only been further accentuated by the pandemic, says Britta Hjuler:

“A differentiated learning environment makes it possible to accommodate teaching in smaller groups, differentiated and increased adult contact where the need is greatest, immersive activities and social learning such as group work as well as peer-to-peer learning,” she says.

#4 Create space for online teaching

Many pupils have probably had more than enough of online teaching, but after the pandemic, online teaching will once again come to play a role, says Britta Hjuler:

“Online teaching has proved to be an effective tool and a good supplement to conventional classes. It is probably unlikely that plenary teaching activities will take place online, but there is no doubt that the computer is an effective tool in connection with immersive activities, training exercises, project assignments and presentations. We are therefore going to need spaces where pupils can immerse themselves in their exercises and project work. Schools also need to have plenty of power sockets, network access points and monitors for connecting up so that computers can be integrated in multiple learning forms,” she says.

Britta Hjuler, architect and partner at Pluskontoret Arkitekter A/S

Who is Pluskontoret Arkitekter A/S?

Pluskontoret Arkitekter in Denmark works to create high-quality architecture as client and turnkey consultants and in the fields of both architecture and landscape design.

The firm primarily works within four core areas: Housing, Children, Learning and Business. For example, the firm acted as architectural consultants on the construction of Erlev Skole, which has been named School Building of the Year 2021 in Denmark.