HEWI MAG / Knowledge

Modern school construction: How architecture promotes learning

A guest article by Natascha Meuser | Architect and publisher in Berlin

Does the design of space in educational buildings influence children? Can modern school construction facilitate and promote learning in the sense of a "positive learning" approach? Natascha Meuser explores these questions in this guest article.

Good pedagogy needs good architecture

Taken to extremes, this postulate leads to the concept of "space as the third pedagogue" by Loris Malaguzzi. First of all, this is a very concise formulation. But what does it mean?

"The space" refers to the horizon of meaning of architecture, while "the pedagogue" implies that it is about the act of educating. In this sentence, the personalization of space is evoked: space educates.

However, this would first bring us to a conflict. In architecture, space is not an actor. The designed space is merely the intellectual product of the architect. Therefore, the question arises: As soon as the architect plans and designs for educational institutions, is he acting at least indirectly as an educator?

If today we again grant architecture the task of educating the users with designed spaces, the demand goes hand in hand with this that the architect must be aware of his social responsibility and the consequences of his contributions to building culture and needs the expertise of educators for this.

Modern School Construction - Requirements for Educational Architecture

It seems that contemporary educational facilities in general and equipment solutions for kindergartens, primary and secondary schools in particular have to meet a wide range of requirements. This demand on architecture would not be new.

The architecture apparently required today especially for children is an eloquent expression of the fact that, since the dissolution of the classical family structure, experiments have often been carried out in a surprisingly disorientating manner as to how children can be accommodated in an industrialised world "without a guilty conscience".

The premises must be able to withstand high loads in the long term and must therefore be robustly constructed. The interior structure of the building should therefore be adapted to the needs of the respective age group.

Building for children is a highly complex task

A basic need of children (and of parents) is safety and security. Safety management, especially in wet rooms, is therefore an indispensable and particularly complex task, especially as some aspects should be visible and others as invisible as possible. In concrete terms, this means easily accessible and above all also accessible equipment.

Thus the task for architecture would be above all the attempt to solve these structural problems inherent in the system by adapting the interior structure of the building to the needs of the respective age group.

Discover how in the Hans-Thoma School in Oberursel height-adjustable sanitary solutions adapt to the individual needs of the users.


A current trend in buildings for children is that the architecture should offer spaces in which the child can move seemingly unguided, free to choose its occupation in growing self-responsibility - virtually without adult intervention and, above all, free of danger. The fact that building for children is a highly complex task and subject to its own laws is already conditioned by the scale of the child.

The architect has to deal with an unfamiliar task, since both the scale of the adult and that of the child have to be taken into account here. The child experiences space differently than an adult. The planners have to adjust to this with regard to the dimensioning of the rooms and components as well as the fixtures and fittings, especially in sanitary rooms.

In modern school construction the room is the third educator

A child's living space is characterised by four functional parameters: social interaction, opportunities for retreat, freely definable action spaces and recreational areas. In kindergarten or school, the architect must artificially create these factors and bring them into harmony with the changed environmental conditions or with the environment outside the family for the child. Are wide, manageable spaces good for the children or rather for the caregivers?

The concept of space as the third pedagogue involves ignorance of the potential of architecture on the one hand and the search for solutions to human coexistence on the other. The aim must therefore be that both educators and the professional groups involved in the planning of buildings for children are aware of the complexity of architecture in view of the age- and development-related characteristics of children.

If we are to learn something from the environment designed by human hands, then it can only be about the perception of harmony and proportion, light and colour, material and surface - and of course about architectural space.

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The author


born 1967 in Erlangen. Architect and publisher in Berlin. Studied in Rosenheim (interior design) and in Chicago at the Illinois Institute of Technology (Master of Architecture). Professor at the Anhalt University of Applied Sciences in Dessau. Doctorate at the Technical University of Berlin. Numerous publications in the field of design theory and educational buildings as well as research on the history of architecture and zoology. 2020 Foundation of the Institute for Zoo Architecture at the Anhalt University of Applied Sciences.

"The architect has to deal with an unfamiliar task, as both the adult's and the child's standards have to be taken into account here. The child experiences space differently than an adult."

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