School design. It’s not generally the first thing that springs to mind as a subject to enthrall and excite a large group of teenagers – unless perhaps it is the design vision of Prakash Nair. Futurist, award-winning architect, and founding partner of one of the world’s leading change agents for innovative schools, FNI, the company responsible for the conceptual design of the new school for IICS.

Prakash included a visit to Istanbul in his busy schedule to share the thinking and philosophy behind the designs with the community of IICS, most importantly the end users, IICS students.

Comfortable with being asked to think critically, students engaged enthusiastically with the question ‘Why do schools look the way they do?’

There was evident shock as Prakash shared his perspective – that schools were designed a century ago to train people for factory work– to be conditioned to be in one place for seven hours a day to complete boring repetitive tasks and to follow instructions efficiently…

Students were challenged to consider what other systems and artifacts were still in use, unchanged from the 19th century. What significant things had happened which might change the purpose and process of education?

Looking around the room it was easy to see wry smiles from teachers and a growing sense of understanding from the students. They were challenged to think both literally and metaphorically ‘out of the box’ and consider: What would a school look like if it had been designed for the purpose of learning as it actually happens?

Inspired by this new perspective, students were quick to share ideas about spaces they would love to be in every day, environments that would support their learning; their responses starkly highlighted the absurdity of some of our accepted approaches to designing and furnishing schools.Picture1

Take ‘comfort’ for example. The students said, “We would like cushions for chairs, bean bags, couches…”

Why do we instinctively smile at this type of request? Is being uncomfortable a necessary aspect of being at school? Is it appropriate that the main criterion for a classroom chair is that it is stackable?

There were a few students who were perhaps a little ambitious:
“First class seats. Top notch business class are fine, too.”

Many students mentioned natural light and connection with nature:
“Every classroom should be connected to the outdoors.”

They suggested the spaces might be connected with each other so that they could collaborate more easily; they offered ideas for making the environment welcoming and colorful; and they suggested how the design might be made more conducive to learning for different students.

It seems to have taken many years and many thousands of dollars in research grants to arrive at the same design imperatives for schools that our own students came up with in half an hour…

–Jane Thompson, Head of School