The school, also a matter of space

Today, the more than 40,000 Italian school buildings also represent the different historical phases of our country. About 1,500 were built before 1900 and are therefore often housed in “historic” buildings adapted to the new use. There are rental buildings built as apartment blocks that house a school: 1A in the living room and 2B in the bedroom, but there is no shortage of rooms built to be warehouses or old monasteries. But if the idea is for a school building to consist of classrooms that are simple rectangular rooms, the problem is seating, and the debate focuses on the classes of the “chicken coop” and the number of children, in square meters per student: standard the problem is solved.

However, we all know that space is a very effective teacher, able to change the physiognomy of an entire school through interior design, furniture and the integration of technologies in the overall design of a new concept of school. An innovative design of spaces is able to change teaching much more than many texts or training courses.

To design spaces and furniture differently, however, it is necessary to have a concrete and articulated idea of ​​change, of the organization of the school model: but if in the Recovery plan and in the recent ministerial document prepared for the construction of innovative schools, the guidelines are based on energy efficiency and reserve a secondary space for the organization of time, teaching methodologies, technologies, which should having represented the center, we risk losing. an opportunity that is unlikely to return.

Certainly, attention to energy sustainability is essential today for all interventions in the building and, therefore, also for school buildings, but the central idea must be school model innovation, with the aim of enhancing what the school of tomorrow demands. Intervening only on the envelope means leaving unchanged a repetitive architectural scheme consisting of corridors and classrooms, functional in the front class and at the school that has been familiar to us for decades: it is necessary, instead, that the design is guided by the change of the school model, due to the needs of new teaching methodologies, from the reorganization of school time and the need to include technologies in the learning trajectory, integrated into educational practice and not relegated to “special” places such as laboratories or, worse, reduced to chocolates. skills.

The innovation of the school model is a real urgency because the terms of school mismatch with everything around it are numerous. Our high school center is focused on the front class: both the organization of students ‘schedules and the teachers’ employment contract are based on school hours, and time at school is all about checking what it has been understood, and in practice. it is exhausted in lessons and in written and oral “tests”. The advent of industrial society has led to the design of education systems as a large “enterprise,” a centralized structure of mass literacy, goals for which the frontal lesson and the study of the textbook represent the most economical solution. functional.

From the point of view of spaces, having to deal with the rapid population growth and above all having to open schools in very peripheral places, in the middle of isolated territories, it is enough with any rectangular room to transform into a classroom with a specified basic furniture. by the Regulation of 1860 (incl a crucifix I a portrait of the king). Only in 1923 were more precise rules dictated, in terms of size and colors. Today these great systems seem more and more obsolete, but we must not forget that they have done their job very well.

The first crisps of the system are noticed in the primary school where the structure and the disciplinary fragmentation are also less accentuated. Freinet, Montessori, Lombardo Radice and the whole activist movement had already highlighted in the twenties how the predominance of the textbook, the didactic organization focused entirely on the written text and the lesson and, consequently, also the organization of the spaces was in primary school in contrast to the demands and needs of children, who are asked to adapt to an environment, even physical, made of immobility and attention. Now the classroom doors were opened and all possible space was taken advantage of, the desks were moved, the desk disappeared and the space was populated with “places of direct observation”. The experimental method was at the heart of the innovation activity of the many primary school teachers who fought for the school to adapt to their languages, methods and spaces to children, basing learning on reflection, observation direct and reasoning. The classroom designed to focus the lesson becomes inadequate, as does the furniture that laboriously adapts to a new teaching model.

The increase in the school population gradually reduces the “free” spaces of the school building and so everything ends up being concentrated in the classroom, which is divided into “corners” dedicated to this or that activity, to work. as a group, to host those technologies. which serve to transform, at least in part, the educational model, even if the teacher looking for innovative models is forced to settle for the space and furniture available. An inflexible environment that does not tolerate these transformations. The design of school buildings is not based on the activities to be hosted, creating functional environments and furniture, and has no internal articulation, except for gyms and administrative offices, and laboratories are also obtained from classrooms. This is the case of the computer room that has the same furniture as a normal classroom, but which also has computers on the desks.

In those years, the conception of the school as a “learning environment”, which has as its center the activity of the student, was at the origin of many attempts to transform spaces and teaching. , which, however, always clashed with a world forced to constantly use paper. , written text, “objects”, imposing precise limits on the possibility of basing learning on direct experience. As we move away from primary school, the desire to transform, albeit in a limited way, also disappears the school environment: even many laboratories, especially in high schools, are built for students to passively see the school. ‘experiment by the teacher. Only a professional institutes the laboratory is conceived as an alternative to the classroom, where the subjects that “matter” remain. A contrast between normal classrooms and laboratories that also leads children to behave differently depending on whether they are in the laboratory or sitting at the desk in front of the blackboard: the environment, then, teaches, is a decisive element in creating the climate, the social environment. , in the direction of student behavior, in determining their educational success.

What’s the news today? Why redesign buildings? Paraphrasing the title of a well-known book by Francesco Antinucci we can say that “the classroom is broken.” The whole school is “breaking”: on the walls of the school model we know, conspicuous cracks open and the earthquake that is occurring was triggered, the result of the separation of two “faults”, l school and society. by students. This is a structural crisis and not a temporary phenomenon. The school is becoming more and more deeply disconnected from society: it is urgent to rethink it in all its dimensions, including architecture and furniture, taking into account a place built and furnished to explore, experiment, build, also thanks to the use of technologies.

If we want to transform the school from a teaching environment to a learning environment we must completely rethink spaces. Without a strong connection between the transformation of the school into its foundations and architectural design, we will only risk building buildings in compliance with the law, perhaps with strong energy and anti-seismic savings, but designed to accommodate the “usual school” . as I wrote in my recent book The school that does not yet exist. Building a new school today means looking to the future and thinking that it will welcome students destined for a world we don’t know yet, but we know will be different from ours. The school model is a large puzzle where each piece is connected to the other and it is illusory to think about changing it without an overview, facing individual pieces of the mosaic.

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