Including civic participation as part of the learning experience is just one of the ways in which this holistic approach blends educational and public spaces. In Shenzhen, China, during the city’s 2019 Architecture Biennale, designers from Beijing-based firm People’s Architecture Office unveiled a project they called the Plug-In Learning Box. A modular system for building schools, it is intended to create a low-cost, quick-to-build educational solution for China’s fast-growing cities. With an easily reconfigurable footprint, the system can fit into the urban fabric to bring school to children rather than the other way around. The company completed a modified version of the concept in 2020, also in Shenzhen.
One of the most charming and inventive projects of this emerging idiom also demonstrates its potential pitfalls as a community-centered conception of early childhood education. Technically speaking, NUBO is – or rather was – not a school at all. Collaboratively designed by Australian companies Frost Collective and PAL Design Group, Sydney’s Children’s Mall provided an open, user-focused space for creative exploration and growth. Strolling through the two-story multi-room space, kids could engage in activities ranging from cooking to creating art to just hanging out, all in a stylish ambience slightly reminiscent of a hip downtown cafe ( although one with a large chrome slide in the middle). The reference was no coincidence, as NUBO sought to include parents and guardians, not as companions but as active users navigating the space alongside their young charges in a collective intergenerational experience. . Unfortunately, NUBO proved to be too communal, permanently closing last November due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The same perils confronting the city are inevitably confronted by educational urbanism, where and how it manifests itself. And yet, the case for a more integrated and outward-looking educational architecture in the United States is compelling, especially for those who are about to have their very first encounter with the sometimes frightening world beyond. beyond the walls of the nursery.
“In this country, we’re still creating schools like we did 50 years ago,” says Ron Bogle, CEO of the National Design Alliance and team leader of Reimagine America’s Schools, a nonprofit that seeks to changing the way educational spaces are constructed. From his perspective, accelerating technological and social change demands that we look beyond the one-way brick box, to see schools as part of a larger urban whole where even the youngest children can feel at home. “You have to look at the school and the neighborhood as a single system,” he says. “Parks, services, affordable housing…if you surround them with that, you can make schools vital centers of renewal.”