There’s a lot we can learn from this concept design for both schools and working environments. I’m going to try taking a page out of this and hopefully apply some of this design theory to our next office space.
Sweden loves its experimental education, but hereâ€™s a venture thatâ€™s far-fetched even by Swedish standards: Itâ€™s a school without walls.
Thatâ€™s right. Vittra Telefonplan, in Stockholm, was designed according to the principles of the Swedish Free School Organization Vittra, an educational consortium that doesnâ€™t believe in classrooms or classes. So instead of endless rows of desks, itâ€™s got neon-green â€œsitting islandsâ€ and whimsical picnic tables, where students and teachers gather. Instead of study hall, it has â€œLunch Club,â€ a smattering of cafeteria-style tables on a checkerboard floor for working or eating (or both). And instead of an auditorium, it has a faceted blue amphitheatre that rises up in the middle of the school like a giant floating iceberg. The place resembles a mini amusement park, only with laptops (yes, each student gets his or her own laptop).
Sounds great for the kids, but yikes, I feel sorry for their teachers. There arenâ€™t any walls for them to order naughty little boys to face.
Designer Rosan Bosch points out that Vittra Telefonplan isnâ€™t totally wall-free. â€œThere are both smaller and larger closed rooms for different purposes, such as the sound-isolated Dance Hall for dancing, singing, and exercising, the sound isolated Multimedia Lab for working with film, sound, and music, as well as administrative areas and group rooms,â€ she tells Co.Design. There are also assorted interior decorations and fixtures that cleverly double as partitions, like the â€œconversation furniture,â€ a towering study nook thatâ€™s tall enough to pass for a wall.
That was the trick of designing a â€œschool without wallsâ€: It had to be open enough to accommodate the free-wheeling aspects of Vittraâ€™s approach to education (no set classes!). But it also had to include some spatial divisions that could promote different ways of learning–another key part of the Vittra method–such as group work, concentration work, show-and-tell, and so on.
When planning the school, Bosch reached out to both teachers and students. â€œFrom the children we learned that there were different types of design that didnâ€™t appeal to them,â€ she says. To wit: Because they work primarily on laptops not blackboards, they like seating arrangements that let them steal a peek at each otherâ€™s screens. â€œWe therefore created special furniture that gave them more flexible ways of working side by side and together with their laptops,â€ Bosch says, â€œFor example: spread out on rugspots, sitting side by side on a sitting island or in the organic conversation furniture.â€
Now, the big question: Does any of this actually help kids get a better education? Itâ€™s impossible to know for sure. But as Bosch tells it, â€œThe differentiated spaces allow the children to learn on their own terms, creating different types of learning scenarios. In that way, the design lets the school unfold its potential.â€
Do you know anyone who works or goes to school in this kind of environment?
Some trivia: Lake Braddock Secondary in Burke, where I went to middle/high school,Â was originally built as an “open” school without walls. People were pretty open to new ideas in the 70s. By the time I got there, floor to ceiling partitions had been built everywhere to create actual classrooms, since apparently it was impossible to teach without them. I’ll have to ask my sisters if it was still open when they attended.
Maybe this idea would work better for young kids, though?
Wow! That is definitely a bit of trivia. All these years, I never thought to ask you where you went to middle/high school. I guess that makes senseâ€”basic enclosures are probably still necessary for certain types of classes.