Architecture and education: the Nordic format

St. Petersburg | 28.09.2017
Nordic Architecture Days were conducted on September 28-29th in St. Petersburg. The topic of the events, held for the second time, was defined as "Architecture and Education". The discussion took place within the framework of "Nordic Week in St. Petersburg" festival. The Project Baltia magazine, the Consulates General and the institutes of cultures of Nordic countries organized the events.


On September 28th, within the framework of Nordic Architecture Days, the Consulate General of Finland hosted a round-table debate “Architecture and Education. Experience of the Nordic countries and its applicability to St. Petersburg”. The architects whose firms specialize, among other things, in creating spaces for educational process (i.e. universities, schools, kindergartens) took part in the discussion: Adalheydur Atladouttir (A2F, Iceland), Anders Lonka Nis-Hansen (ADEPT, Denmark), Marion Luise Fanebust and Asger Hedegor Christensen (Alliance arkitekter, Norway), Erkko Aarti (Aarti Ollila Ristola Arkkitehdit, Finland), Magnus Månsson (Semrén + Månsson, Sweden / Russia). Vladimir Frolov, chief editor of Project Baltia moderated the discussion.

The Consul General of Norway Dag Malmer Halvorsen greeted the participants of the discussion: “St. Petersburg is a special city in terms of architecture: its historical center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, time goes forward, cities are being extensively developed. Today we expand the educational institutions, build the modern districts, and thus new schools are also needed. The modern architects have to make those facilities comfortable for students.”

Anna Lammila, The Consul General of Finland in St. Petersburg, in turn, noted out that the architecture is a common international language for St. Petersburg and the Nordic countries, where much attention is paid to design of learning environment. A new conceptual training plan has been created in Finland; therefore, the architectural solutions for schools and other educational institutions have been changed. They are much different from the usual ones: the common classrooms have been replaced by transforming rooms, even in old schools extra partitions are being removed. Nevertheless, there is still a significant number of traditional schools with desks in Finland. The new concept does not mean their total elimination.

The Danish “ROCKWOOL” company partnered the festival’s first day. The Rockpanel segment development specialist Alexander Polyansky claimed that creation of better educational conditions is the task not only for the architects, but also for the manufacturers of construction materials. “Searching for new spatial solutions to create comfortable and safe conditions for life, study and work, the manufactures create high-tech and eco-friendly materials”.

The invited architects were talking about their professional interests and the fundamental principles of their work while designing the educational facilities. Thus, Magnus Månsson, the owner of Semrén+Månsson studio (Sweden) noted out that his team is trying to make the old schools more functional.

From the point of view of Erkko Aarti, Aarti Ollila Ristola Arkkitehdit studio (Finand), the changing educational system in Finland will influence the designing of educational facilities and the architecture in general. It will also encourage the transition from education by subject to thematic learning that requires different kinds of group work without classrooms. Therefore, the new schools have to be more open and flexible.

Anders Lonka Nis-Hansen, the representative of Danish «ADEPT» firm said that the studio’s architects are trying to mix the architecture and the urbanism, implementing the architecture to the city and vice versa. “That is crucial for us to combine action and culture, create the sensation of city inside a building, for instance, the sensation of city square inside a university campus”.

Adalheydur Atladouttir, the architect and the founder of “A2F” bureau, Iceland, pointed out that the format description of the educational process in design specification of a school is a source of inspiration for her team.

Marion Luise Fanebust, Alliance arkitekter, underlined that the architects who create the educational facilities in Norway for a long time experimented with different styles. However, recently they revived “more controlled” imagery. At the same time, the usage of school’s space is not traditional anymore: there is a learning process during the day, in the evening the space is used for leisure. “There will be more of such buildings in the future.”

The speeches of the guests confirmed that designing bright roomy schools that could be multifunctional is a common trend in the Nordic countries. The modern school could be used day-and-night; this determines the design features of educational institutions.

Vladimir Grigoriev, the chief architect of St. Petersburg and the chairman of Urban Planning and Architecture Committee agreed that the new forms of learning process require a special approach that should be reflected in the architecture. However, in his opinion, it is wrong to overemphasize such experiments that “should remain experiments because people need to have a choice between traditional and experimental school.” The chief architect believes that the absolute freedom expressed in architecture demands more emotions from the child and puts more pressure on him. “I would welcome experimental buildings as the part of interesting architecture in St. Petersburg, especially in modern districts where the architects and developers have absolute freedom of implementing land use and development rules. Moreover, I guess it is more convenient to look at the experience of the northern neighbors, not the southern ones,” Vladimir Grigoriev encouraged the audience.

Ivan Kozhin, the architect from “Studio 44” was talking about the features of designing non-standard educational facilities, reminding the audience of Boris Eifman Dance Academy. In 2015, that project awarded a prize for the best educational facility in the World Architecture Festival held in Singapore. Some limitations on building process (such as little square of ground, the special management of historic heritage etc.) created particular conditions and the original solution was found. Due to the spatial restrictions, the dance classes have been located between residential and educational buildings. “We decided to create a spatial composition of dance halls’ blocks. They are located in the following way: the roof of one class simultaneously performs recreational function for another, and together they form a spatial group: the halls seem to “dance in space”. The partitions are made of frosted glass, so the privacy is maintained and the light could enter the room at the same time.

However, such designing of educational facilities is rather an exception to the Russian architectural tradition; it is more common for the specialized schools. The architect, professor of the Higher School of Economics Victor Poleshchuk made such conclusion. In his opinion, the trend of designing schools as public spaces and multifunctional complexes with a flexible environment is unlikely to be widely implemented in Russia, since it is more profitable now for country to build schools using typical design.

Olga Milovidova, the assistant professor in Education and deputy director for experimental work at school № 204 with advances Finnish learning also took part in round-table discussion. Her story was devoted to functioning of the school located in a historical building that was adapted to the new educational formats including art spaces and classes without traditional desks. Olga Milovidova claimed the importance of schoolyard: during the break, children should spend more time outdoors.

Alexander Khodachek, the president of NRU HSE in St. Petersburg shared the school’s experience of transforming the buildings of the Nikolaevskaya Manufactory (Vyborgskaya Embankment) into university campus; Ekaterina Vorobei, the tutor of architect school for children “Young Architects Society” told the audience about the non-standard teaching forms that develop students’ freethinking and creative potential.

On September 29th the architects gave lectures at the New Stage of the Alexandrinsky Theater. They talked in details about their implemented projects. A mobile exhibition of the invited architectural studios’ works accompanied the event.

Days of Nordic Architecture were partnered by Russian Guild of Managers and Developers, “ROCHWOOL” Company – the world leader in stone wool solutions for all types of buildings, as well as Rockpanel (the division of “ROCKWOOL”). The “SAROS” company partnered the lecture day.

Text: Anastasia Laptenok; photos: Alisa Gill.

Editorial board of the Project Baltia magazine issued the special brochure, where the interviews with invited architects were published.

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