Building better learning environments

Building better learning environments

  • by Architecture for Humanity
  • Dec 16, 2009
  • comments

Update: We were not chosen to be the selected charity. We are a little disappointed as funding would have built selected schools for 800 to 2500 pupils. Fortunately the selected charity was one we admire and respect, Concern Worldwide, and we wish them the best and congratulate them on being selected.

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Last week it was announced that we are one of four finalists eligible for funding from the 2010 Twestival event, set for March next year. The theme is education - which happens to coincide with focus over the next five years.

We've spent the last year working with more than 10,000 teachers, students and designers to create innovative classrooms for all. With a number of tangible solutions available, twestival hosts can raise funds for real school in need of a better learning environment. (ie. Twestival Singapore could target funds for a school in South Asia and Twestival LA could target their funds for a school in North America.)

Why school building?
For every child to gain access to primary school education the world needs to build ten million new classrooms and upgrade and repair millions more - by 2015. Now factor in the need for upgraded secondary level schools we are looking at the need for innovative low-cost structures for hundreds of millions of children. This is a daunting task.

This is not an 'over there' problem, this issue is global. While millions of children lack access places like India and China, millions of children in the United States and England are being taught in portable trailers that increase the risk of cancer. The need for safe, sustainable and innovative learning environments is a truly global issue. In order to truly tackle very specific needs, the solutions must be local. By tapping into local design and building professionals we can create a more universal strategy for improving learning environments around the world.

Will these structures be sustainable?
Absolutely. Over the past year there has been a lot of talk about climate adaptation and mitigation. The truth is that we desperately need to build the change we want to see in the world (not print more white papers). Over the past decade we have continued to push the boundaries of appropriate off the grid structures and it is our hope to build a number of schools that can be adapted and replicated globally. To date more than 80% of our building have been off the grid and this year we are building Kenya's first 'net positive' building.

Why Open Source?
Let's be honest, one organization is not able to overcome this huge hurdle however through an 'open source' participatory led process we create a portfolio of hundreds of locally appropriate solutions ready to be implemented - and replicated. So far at least 400 schemes have been developed from the 2009 Open Architecture Challenge with all designs held under a Creative Commons license.

What can we achieve?
With a number of schools underway, if additional funding is found we are ready to green light school building projects in 2010 in Burma, Cambodia, Colombia, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Peru, Rwanda, Uganda and the United States (see attached image and embedded videos for the Teton Valley Community School). The cost of building these facilities range from $7,500 to $225,000 depending on location, material availability and inclusion of technology and renewable energy systems. Twestival organizers could pick from a selections of schools and fund a classroom, library, IT room or even the whole building.

What will these schools 'look' like?
A school is much more than its' form and aesthetics. In order to serve the needs of multiple stakeholders it should follow the a defined framework. We have looked to create facilities that;
1. are integrated into the fabric of the community
2. where learning is not confined to the classroom and the building itself should serve as a teaching tool
3. strives to be carbon neutral and where possible energy positive
4. teaches about healthy living and actively supports health through access to nutritional food and safe recreation
5. embodys learning for the whole community and should be active throughout the day and evening, year-round
6. are safe and accessible
7. are self-sustaining and provide value to the community

How will this happen?
1. Architecture for Humanity and our team of building professionals and partners will renovate, expand and modernize existing school infrastructure to meet and exceed current school building standards where the project is located. We will build new schools where one neither exists or in areas in crisis (both man-made and natural disasters).

2. We will build upon the work of LEED for schools and other regional building standards as each project would be required to meet sustainability guidelines established as part of the program. For instance a project in Sudan may end up setting sustainability standards in that region.

3. Architecture for Humanity to perform monitoring and evaluation to ensure high standards of design and construction and support knowledge sharing via the Open Architecture Network, it's chapters and it's network of 40,000 design professionals.

2010 could be the beginning in a new global education revolution. With your help, we can make that happen?

If you have questions please send them our way.


One of the potential schools that could be built next year. This school is an independent non profit school that is already 25% funded.

Voices of the experts of the classroom.

About the Teton Valley Community School design.



Video on two Open Architecture Challenge teams in NYC.