Design and Construction of Sustainable Schools

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Following two highly successful field trips to Norway and Germany organised by GAIA Research and GAIA Architects respectively, (involving a number of private and local authority architects, building services and structural engineers, planners and sustainability officers involved in school design), the Scottish Executive commissioned Sust. to work with GAIA to develop two publications – one on case studies of the schools visited and a second volume on technical issues associated with the design and operation of the schools. The books include a summary of the combined impressions of the group of who attended the visits.

Summary of the study tour activities
After each building visit the group was organised into ‘buzz groups’ and asked to come up with a list of design features that they felt could (green), might (amber) and could not (red) readily translate to schools in Scotland. A traffic light system of greens – obvious (why are we not doing this already?). Ambers – possible (but might require a re-think on how we interpret our Building Regulations) and Reds -not possible for either Regulatory or cultural reasons.

In all of the buildings visited, there was a strong relationship between the buildings, the landscape and the adjacent community/ neighbourhood. There was also a strong sense of arrival with each building having a dedicated reception within a dedicated focal point. Key design features included well-controlled use of daylight, natural ventilation, and natural/ untreated materials – particularly untreated timber which gave the buildings a wonderful smell. The children, parents and staff were very much involved in the design process and in the building construction in a manner that would be unusual if not difficult here in Scotland. There was also a very different attitude to health and safety and this allowed more challenging elements to be incorporated into the landscaping and interior features and finishes. These included water features, inside and out and extensive external planting, and mixed media surface finishes. In addition the visitors were able to wander freely and security did not appear to be as much of an issue (perhaps understandably) as it is here. In part this may also be related to less risk of litigation associated with playground accidents, for example.

A key difference between German and Scottish teaching methods however was the fact that their schools do not provide access for all as a matter of course as children with special educational needs and in need of special access arrangements are taught separately, by specialist teachers. This also impacted on the external finishes and features.

You can download the publications via the links below:

Volume 1

Volume 2

Headline Image: Comprehensive School Gelsenkirchen (Plus + Bauplanning)

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