Since it was established in 2018 by the United Nations General Assembly, International Education Day has been marked every January 24 to remind us of the importance of equal access to quality education all over the world. The theme for 2022, “Changing course, transforming education,” is a callout to everyone involved in the sector. And with this message more important than ever in this particular moment in history, the event should be embraced as a platform for dialogue about strengthening education as a public endeavor and common good, how to steer digital transformation, how to support teachers, how to safeguard the planet, and how to unlock the potential in every person to contribute to the collective wellbeing and our shared home.
Buildings and architecture dedicated to the growth of future generations play a vital role in this. As pedagogist Loris Malaguzzi observed many years ago, “Space is the third educator.”
The challenge of designing spaces for education that respond to the needs of today’s students – of all ages – has been taken up in Italy by architects and architectural practices in their designs of universities and schools with flexible, comfortable spaces, often with a green component.
“The first thing a child draws looks like a circle.” This quote from Italian artist Bruno Munari was a source of inspiration for the design of a school in Pacentro (L’Aquila) by Mario Cucinella Architects: a circular structure that harmonizes with the surrounding Apennine landscape.
What’s most unusual about the facility, though, is how it came into being, with the design process involving the entire community of students and teachers, as well as the associations ActionAid and Viviamolaq, with the final project incorporating the ideas of each group.
From the outset, the school was going to be structured as a place for meeting, sharing, and exchanging ideas. This is certainly true of its large central atrium, with the teaching areas branching off from here. This space is conceived as a large, colorful, and well-lit agora, where nature enters and catches the eye, and where light, filtering through the surrounding plant life, changes color and tone according to the changing seasons. The concept at work here is termed learning landscape, with flexible internal learning spaces with transparent walls, combined with areas that are quite different from the traditional classrooms as well as workshops for enhancing hands-on learning.
The approximately 8600 square foot (800 m2) building is on a single level and will have eight classrooms, five for primary school and three for lower secondary school. Begun in 2020, construction is expected to be completed by spring 2022, returning to the community and its 80 students the school damaged in the 2009 earthquake.
With a project that preserves the history and original layout, along with a touch of contemporaneity, the former Garibaldi barracks in Milan, a stone’s throw from Sant’Ambrogio Basilica, is ready to become a new campus of the sprawling Università Cattolica. In synergy with the historic center of the university in Largo Gemelli, the redevelopment by Beretta Associati will see an optimization of the rooms of the former barracks to provide teaching spaces.
The largest part of the project is the construction of a volume underneath the northern courtyard, where there will be a 776-seat hall and classrooms for up to 2500 students. Outside, a glazed construction like a kind of light well will incorporate the entrance and vertical connections to the large basement level.
Originally a Benedictine refectory, today this space designed by Bramante is the main hall of the principal campus of Milan’s Università Cattolica, in Sant’Ambrogio. It was recently redesigned by Progetto CMR. Located between two cloisters, also designed by Bramante during the same period, the refectory featured fluted Doric pilasters running its length. The decorative work on its vault extended to the lunettes, which featured tondos depicting such images as the Wedding at Cana and David playing the harp while flanked by two seraphim.
The project involved redesigning the space, a large room with seating for 650, to improve its acoustic and climatic performance. To achieve this, side walls with acoustic cladding were added, with the same material also used for the ceilings and desks.
Another of the most recent projects in Italy is the new Bocconi University campus in Milan, the work of Japanese studio SANAA (Kazuyo Sejima Ryue Nishizawa). This project involves the creation of a complex of buildings to house the admin offices and classrooms of the SDA School of Management, student accommodation, and a sports center open to the public. Opened in October 2021, the Bocconi Sports Center, for which Progetto CMR oversaw the final design and construction, occupies four aboveground floors and a basement level with two swimming pools. The facility was designed to be fully accessible to people with disabilities, according to the principles of Design for All.
Education, training, and research institutions are among the categories of the annual THE PLAN Award. In 2021, the Thapar University Learning Laboratory in Patiala, India, designed by McCullough Mulvin Architects with Designplus Associates Services, Delhi, won first prize in the Completed section. Conceived as a new type of space for meeting and training, the laboratory comprises three volumes in red stone with white marble finishes that house a library, classrooms, and the science faculty. This is architecture made of solid geometric shapes suggestive of natural forms.
The silver medal in THE PLAN Award 2021 went to the Tianjin Juilliard School (TJS), designed by Diller Escofidio + Renfro and home to the first performing arts institute in China to award a US-accredited master’s degree in music. Overlooking the Haihe River, the complex is divided into four pavilions, each located at the corners of a large hall with overhead lighting, conceived as an extension of the outdoor garden. It covers a total of 350 thousand square feet (32,500 m2) and comprises two concert halls, a theater, rehearsal rooms , teaching rooms, and admin offices.
Polo Scolastico di Pacentro, L’Aquila
Location: Pacentro, L’Aquila
Architects: Mario Cucinella Architects (preliminary anche final project)
Executive project: Dunamis Architettura
Client: Comune di Pacentro
Rendering by MCA
Campus Università Cattolica, Milano
Architects: Beretta Associati
Client: Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore
Superficie totale: 54.175 m2
Totale aule: 132
Rendering by Beretta Associati
Aula Magna Gemelli, Milano
Architects: Progetto CMR
Client: Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore
Photography by Andrea Martiradonna, courtesy Progetto CMR
Other projects (Bocconi Urban Campus, The Tianjin Juilliard School, Thapar University Learning Laboratory)
Please refer to the individual links as indicated in the article above to look through the project's credits