August 18, 2023

Building a Greener Tomorrow: Inside Five Innovative Sustainable Schools⁠

Author: Radmila Durasinovic
Tags: design / architecture Category: magazine

Building a Greener Tomorrow: Inside Five Innovative Sustainable Schools⁠

In an era where environmental consciousness and responsible practices are paramount, educational institutions are both embracing and pioneering sustainable approaches, both through researching and teaching sustainable practices and through innovative design of their buildings, which aid in minimising their ecological footprint, reducing energy consumption, and conserving natural resources. Across the world, educational establishments constitute a substantial portion of children's daily routines, which means special attention should be paid to the effect of certain design decisions on children’s wellbeing and productivity. As the design of schools can have a significant effect on learning outcomes, it is paramount that educational spaces are functional, comfortable and inspirational. Sustainable design practices can certainly optimise the “technical” aspects of well-being—air quality, natural lighting, and comfortable temperatures. However, there is another aspect that makes sustainability an even more important consideration in designing educational facilities: setting an example and creating unique educational opportunities for pupils, students and the broader community to nurture a lifelong commitment to environmental stewardship.

Building a sustainable educational institution and building a sustainable education are multidisciplinary endeavours, necessitating collaboration among experts from diverse fields, including architects, engineers, teachers, administrators, and furniture designers and manufacturers, all united by a common goal. We delve inside five projects of educational buildings that embrace this holistic approach to create sustainable, creative environments that aim to provide a positive learning experience and community connections.


ETH HIT e-science Lab, Zurich, Switzerland

ETH HIT e-science Lab, Zurich, Switzerland

ETH, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology located in Zürich, is one of the world’s most prominent institutions in technology and science. When architectural studio Baumschlager Eberle was tasked with designing a new, flexible and energy efficient e-Science Lab on ETH’s Zürich Hönggerberg Campus, they found a simple rectangular block to be the best solution. The representative structure balances the brief’s technological and spatial requirements with an architecture of materiality and poise.


ETH HIT e-science Lab, Zurich, Switzerland © Baumschlager Eberle

The building's geometrically balanced exterior was designed to meet Switzerland's stringent Minergie energy efficiency standards. For the façade, the architects opted for travertine panels, supplied by Salvatori, an Italian design company specialising in natural stone, to shield the interior of the building from the sun’s rays, while creating a play of light and shadow within.

Powerhouse Drøbak Montessori School, Drøbak, Norway © Robin Hayes

Powerhouse Drøbak Montessori School, Drøbak, Norway

In 2015, Snøhetta was enlisted to design new secondary school in a forest in Drøbak, Norway. The design of the school was shaped by energy efficiency goals, the inherent qualities of the site, and Montessori education principles. The architecture doubles as a social and educational tool, centring around the Powerhouse concept, a new energy positive standard for building.

Powerhouse Drøbak Montessori School, Drøbak, Norway © Martela

From the outset, a diverse team collaborated to realise the first Powerhouse educational building in alignment with the Montessori learning approach that favours hands-on learning and play. The result is a building that prioritises energy efficiency and open interiors to facilitate Montessori methods. A distinctive feature of the school is a "solar plate" that intersects the building, oriented southward for optimal solar cell efficiency, while defining the social and educational spaces inside. Large openings ensure spaces are well-lit, framing the views of the surroundings, while extensive wood surfaces allow for good acoustics and connect the school with its natural context.


Powerhouse Drøbak Montessori School, Drøbak, Norway © Martela

Finnish furniture manufacturer Martela was chosen as a partner in furnishing the school, due to their user-centric approach to developing workplaces and learning environments. As the main priority was the flexible use of spaces for different activities, the easily movable Salmiakki tables that can be arranged into groups of different sizes and shapes were used throughout the school. Group areas feature sofas and benches like the flexible Bit and Diagonal Play lines made for collaboration and relaxation, in colours inspired by the natural surroundings.


Maersk Tower

Maersk Tower, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

The Maersk Tower in Copenhagen is a state-of-the-art research facility focused on health studies. Designed by C.F. Møller architects, the tower serves as an expansion of the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, and comprises research facilities, educational areas, and a conference centre. In opting for a tower typology, the ground space is freed up for the creation of a campus park, which is open to everyone, thus linking the University of Copenhagen with the local area and surrounding neighbourhoods. This connection is further explored through a zigzagging 'floating path' that provides pedestrians and cyclists the opportunity to get close to the building and a glimpse at the activities unfolding within. The Maersk Tower also incorporates sustainability by utilizing a ventilation system that recycles heat from expelled air to warm incoming fresh air through large heat exchangers. Moreover, copper shutters on its windows automatically open and close to reflect 75 percent of incoming solar energy, contributing to energy efficiency.


Maersk Tower Auditorum © Kvadrat

Inside, laboratories are interconnected through a streamlined loop system, encouraging collaborative efforts among researchers. A sculptural spiral staircase stands as a central conduit linking the various floors, while designated "Science Plazas" offer shared spaces for personnel to gather and interact. The tower's large auditorium accommodates 500 seats, each upholstered in five distinct shades of red from the Steelcut and Steelcut Trio fabric lines by Frans Dijkmeijer & Giulio Ridolfo, produced by Kvadrat.


Linnaeus University © Kinnarps

Linnaeus University / Kalmar, Sweden

The Linnaeus University in the heart of the city of Kalmar, highlights the power of encounters, with the university's central location and transparent, open architectural design providing a vibrant meeting place and facilitating interactions among students, researchers, businesses, and the public. The bold yellow colour of the eastern building provides a contrast to the natural materials applied in the western part, remaining a consistent theme throughout the design of the interiors as well. The project is also characterised by its ambitious sustainability goals, which extend even to daily operations: planning for digital meetings and distance learning to reduce travel-related climate impact, accompanied by appropriate technology. Sustainable material choices, energy-efficient solutions, and furniture reuse were also key priorities during the design process. In a collaboration with Kinnarps, the university successfully integrated existing furniture into the new premises.

Linnaeus University © Kinnarps

Kinnarps played a vital role in effectively integrating old and new furniture with their expertise in learning spaces and circular practices. The old furniture that Kinnarps managed was repurposed, with some components serving as spare parts for other recycled furniture. Materials like metal, plastic, and textiles were recycled, while wood-based parts were transformed into briquettes for eco-friendly heating.


Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre at Worcester College, Oxford, United Kingdom © Nick Kane

Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre at Worcester College, Oxford, United Kingdom

The Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre, designed by Níall McLaughlin Architects and completed in 2017, is located within the University of Oxford's Worcester College. The centre serves as a dynamic venue for academic and cultural events and integrates a contemporary architectural concept into a historic setting. The building's outward appearance harmonises with Worcester College's existing structures, facilitating a seamless blend of traditional and modern elements. Designed as a “a theatre in a garden”, a standout feature of the centre is the curved stone auditorium with a spectacular pleated ceiling which hovers above glass walls that allow clerestory light to permeate the space.


Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre © Nick Kane

The auditorium used for lectures, theatre performances, and concerts, features a radial seating arrangement. Collaborating with the architects on the interior design, Benchmark furniture undertook the task of crafting the seating for the centre. The British furniture manufacturer’s focus on sustainability through natural and quality materials was a natural choice for the project which required intricate craftsmanship, involving the steam bending of solid European oak to achieve the desired curved shape of the benches. The same oak wood was used for acoustic elements on the walls, ceiling beams, and doors.

August 18, 2023 Author: Radmila Durasinovic
Tags: design / architecture Category: magazine

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