Learning environment: from school and office to the entire urban space

Moscow | 04.10.2017
Finnish Architecture Days were held in Moscow on October 04–05th by Project Baltia magazine together with the Embassy of Finland and the Association of Finnish Architects’ Offices (ATL). The festival took place for the second time and this year the topic was defined as “Educational Environment”. The partner of the festival was Honka construction company (Rossa Rakenne SPb).


Besides the representative of the Association of Finnish Architects’ Offices Kalle Euro, the festival welcomed Mariitta Helineva, chief architect of Helin & Co architects firm, Elizaveta Parkkonen, project director in the Helin & Co’s Russian office, and Asko Takala, partner in Kirsi Sivén & Asko Takala architects firm.

On the first day, October 4th, the Embassy of Finland held a round-table discussion on “Innovative Solutions in Educational Environment: Finnish Experience, Russian Context”.

Alongside Finnish guests, the meeting was attended by Yuri Borisov, CEO of UNK Project architectural bureau, Anna Shapiro, chief architect of Atrium bureau, Olga Aleksakova, partner in Buromoscow, Joseph Van der Steen (British Higher School of Art and Design and O’Brien Van der Steen Hunt bureau) and Aleksey Tarashevsky, architect (Honka / Rossa Rakenne SPb). The discussion was moderated by Vladimir Frolov, chief editor of Project Baltia, and Mariya Fadeeva, architectural critic, teacher at the MARCH school.

The ambassador of Finland at Russia Mikko Hautala greeted the guests and underlined the importance of educational environment for the society development.

Asko Takala’s speech was devoted to different educational projects made by his firm, such as Kuntola building (Järvenpää, Finland) that is adapted for people with disabilities. The architects made everything possible so that people after having bad injuries or illnesses could easily come back to normal life and “no one feels alone”. In addition, Mr. Takala mentioned the reconstruction of Karviaistie School in Helsinki, where the historical blocks were connected, thus the large-scale transitory public space appeared. The process of designing the school facilities has been changed, that could be illustrated by the example of school in Jätkäsaari (took the second prize). Mr. Takala claimed that the school of the 21st century, in comparison with the usual educational institution, receives a great variety of areas that are suitable for educational processes and does not contain the traditional hierarchical system. Some activities of the learning process migrate from classrooms to recreation rooms and the transformable spaces appear, so the corridor as a monofunctional environment is fading away, giving a way to public space. The entire school becomes multifunctional, turning to a center of the district life, welcoming the residents. However, the access is under control of “smart house” systems anyway.

Mariitta Helineva and Elizaveta Parkkonen took the different approach to the topic of the educational environment, told about the new large-scale project of Helin & Co firm: the reconstruction of the office of tech company Tieto. Thanks to their presentation, it becomes clear that the spatial typologies of modern schools and offices are pretty close: both focus on transformable space, so the workplace (or student’s desk) loses its significance. Depending on situation, a person could work or study anywhere. Such system allows improving the efficiency of the office facilities and more staff could be employed. The worker does not have to stay at the same place the whole time.

Juliy Borisov supported the broader understanding of the learning environment, pointing out that in his practice he seeks to full the urban space with signs that have a didactic function (for example, a portrait of Vernadsky appears on one of the facades of the buildings designed by the office). The modern school should be associated with home and comfortable office, not with barracks, as it was during the Soviet times. Mr. Borisov also underlined that there must be no segregation: that is how the Clever school in Irkutsk designed by Danish CEBRA and UNK is being build.

Anna Shapiro, “Atrium” office, pointed out that sometimes it is impossible to ensure the social openness of the educational project. Nevertheless, more and more architects are trying to implement innovative international formats while designing the educational institutions in modern Russia. For instance, the finish experience was taken into account during the designing of “Letovo” school. The example of “Symbol” school demonstrates that in the context of a new residential complex school could become a part of the design solution for the entire district and a single visual environment is created. In addition, as it works in Finland, it becomes possible to expand the function of the school, turning it to a public center for residents of the new housing estate. One of the tools that allows raising school’s profile is a school library that should be open for parents and neighbors. Such idea will be put into practice in the “Symbol” school. According to Anna Shapiro, one of the major differences between Russian and Finnish schools is the estimated number of students: it is several times higher in Russia. However, the principles of the new educational environment formats themselves are already quite close.

Olga Aleksakova, BUROMOSCOW, mentioned another important issue. Today the process of designing is being made in the context of post-soviet rationing, so the main problem is not about the school itself, it is about the schoolyard that is pretty often reminds empty, both functionally and symbolically.  Olga Aleksakova shared the results of the research she conducted alongside the students of the MARSH school and proposed a variety of ways to rethink school territory.
Joseph van Der Steen’s presentation was devoted to a building regeneration project in Georgia, where education is supposed to become one of the main functions. Van der Steen believes that the future of education is closely connected with craft workshops where citizens can work and study.

Finally, Alexei Tarashevsky, HONKA, spoke about the advantages of using wood in educational facilities, mentioning the example of Finnish and foreign projects. Such practice is widely used today. Wood as an ecological material is healthier than concrete that is often used in Russia, moreover, the tactile and visual qualities of the material have a favorable psychological effect on pupils and their parents. The willing to build the wooden schools in Russia faces some regulation problems, yet the speaker mentioned the interest of the Ministry of Construction in changing legislation that will create new opportunities for architects to design wooden facilities.

During the discussion special attention was paid to the economic aspects of constructing new types of schools. In Russia, there is a great demand in social infrastructure facilities as part of the integrated development of urban territories, but the developers are not always ready to invest in the design and construction of unique buildings. The solution here could be new typical designs that can be developed based on the Finnish experience.

On the second day of the festival, the Finnish guests visited the Moscow’s new landmark — Zaryadye Park, which, according to Victoria Raubo, Moskomarkhitektura, is designed as an educational project which would help citizens and tourists of all ages learn about the geography and history of Russia, and offer unique views on the Kremlin and the Moskva River.

In the afternoon, the Finnish guests gave public lectures in the MARCH school where they were greeted by its director Nikita Tokarev. He pointed out that as it is the second time when the school cooperates with the organizers of Finnish Architecture Days, it has all chances of becoming a successful annual tradition.

Photos by Maria Makarova

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Opening Week of the 5th Architecture Biennale will take place from September 11th – 15th, 2019 in multiple venues in the heart of Tallinn. Dedicated to the theme “Beauty Matters: The Resurgence of Beauty”, the international architecture festival, organised by the Estonian Centre for Architecture and curated by Dr. Yael Reisner, celebrates the aesthetic experience in architecture, after almost 80 years of cultural bias.

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