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Why School Buildings Matter

A healthy society is one that invests in its youth and creates a level playing field for all. The best opportunity to reduce issues of inequality is to provide high-quality education for everyone. While more funding must be directed to teacher resources and supplies, quality education does not stop at the curriculum. Rather, the school building itself plays a critical role in the success of its students, too. Scientific studies show that increasing the quality of the indoor environment of schools leads to higher performance among its students. In North America and Europe where students spend upwards of 15,600 hours1 inside a school by the time they graduate from high school, alterations to the interior by means of enhanced natural lighting (fig. 1)2, increased ventilation, the use of non-carcinogenic materials, and access to green space are essential.

Historically, the built environment and public health have always influenced one another. From the 19th-century cholera outbreak, which spurred the creation of modern sewage systems (fig. 2)3, to the advent of tuberculosis sanatoria in the early 20th century, architecture has aimed to provide safer and healthier spaces for its inhabitants. In the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic (fig. 3)4, renewed attention has been placed on the quality of our indoor environments and how they can evolve and adapt in moments of crisis. While adequate ventilation and natural lighting are necessary for the functioning of a contemporary building, we continue to learn more about the impact of other things like the positive feedback offered by the presence of vegetation5 within a building (fig. 4)6. Simple additions like this can have profound impacts on the overall mental health7 of students.

fig.1 Natural lighting in Evergreen Charter School; fig. 2 Joseph Bazalgette (top right) at the northern outfall sewer being built below London’s Abbey Mills pumping station.

Beyond the students, clients have told us and research shows that higher quality building facilities help with the recruitment and retention of skilled, enthusiastic teachers 8. For anyone touring a potential new school, the facilities have always been important but parents increasingly understand the quality of a particular school’s facilities impacts their children’s education9. As we have already seen in other sectors from universities to tech companies, which use building facilities as a tool to attract and retain students and talent, we believe this trend will soon penetrate the primary and secondary school markets. As understanding of indoor environmental quality and its effects on health and performance become more widely known, the topic will be vital to the development of new and existing schools.

To learn more about our methodology and how we create high-quality learning environments that engage communities, take a look at some of our recent projects.

fig.3 Circles designed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus by encouraging social distancing line San Francisco's Dolores Park; fig.4 Interior planting in Evergreen Charter School

  • 1 Eitland and Allen, “Schools for Health: Foundations for Student Success”, National Association of State Boards of Education (2019): 6
  • 2 Makerspace in Evergreen Charter School, Martin Hopp Architect
  • 3 Otto Herschan, photograph, Getty
  • 4 Noah Berger, Photograph, abcNews, May 21, 2020
  • 5 Grinde and Patil, “Biophilia: Does Visual Contact with Nature Impact on Health and Well-Being?”, Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 6, no. 9 (2009)
  • 6 Planting at feature staircase in Evergreen Charter School, Martin Hopp Architect.
  • 7 Boubekri, Cheung, J. Reid, Wang, C. Zee, “Impact of Windows and Daylight Exposure on Overall Health and Sleep Quality of Office Workers: A Case-Control Pilot Study”, J Clin Sleep Med. 10(6) (2014).
  • 8 Buckley, Schneider, and Shang, “The Effects of School Facility Quality on Teacher Retention in Urban School Districts”, National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities (2004).
  • 9 Andrews, Archieval, “How School Facilities Improve A Child’s School Experience”, Fresco News, 2019, https://www.fresconews.com/how-school-facilities-improve-a-childs-school-experience/