The timber revolution is taking the architectural world by storm, and it’s not just a passing fad. This renewable resource is becoming a staple in elementary school design worldwide, and with good reason. From reducing carbon footprints to providing a warm and inviting atmosphere, wood is changing the game of school design. In this article, we’ll explore eight elementary schools from different corners of the globe leading the way with their innovative use of wood. So get ready to be inspired by the warmth, natural beauty and sustainable potential of this versatile building material.
By archi5, Coupvray, France
Jury & Popular Choice Winner, 10th Annual A+Awards, Primary & High Schools
The Jean Louis Étienne School is a stunning example of architecture that effortlessly blends into its natural surroundings. With a mix of urban-style façade and larch wood cladding, the school building creates a warm and playful environment for students. The interiors are bright and airy, flooded with natural light and stunning views of the garden and surrounding landscape. But it’s not just about looks — the school also boasts a BEPOS Effinergie 2017 certification, meaning it’s a positive energy building with low energy consumption.
By HIBINOSEKKEI+Youji no Shiro, Sasebo, Japan
Popular Choice Winner, 8th Annual A+Awards, Primary & High Schools
At KB Primary and Secondary School in Japan, learning is not just about sitting still and listening to lectures. In fact, innovative furniture design and sustainable construction practices encourage active and experiential learning. The school’s interiors have been transformed to align with modern teaching approaches, creating spaces where students can engage in flexible layouts and active discussions with their peers. Plus, the mass timber elements and exposed plywood waffle ceiling make the school feel like a tranquil forest retreat. This project proves that sustainability and design can go hand in hand to create a better learning environment.
By Barker Associates Architecture Office, Brooklyn, Kings County, NY, United States
Jury Winner, Architecture +Learning; Jury Winner, Educational Interiors, 10th Annual A+Awards
This adaptive reuse project transformed a former lumber warehouse into six preschool classrooms, which open onto a central double-height courtyard gathering space. The courtyard features a thickened wall that incorporates the reception desk and storage cubbies. Meanwhile, windows of varying shapes and sizes in the interior façade allow borrowed light to enter the surrounding spaces on both levels. Featuring neutral tones, intricate details and a dynamic, graphical aesthetic, the interior creates an animated atmosphere, making it an enjoyable space for students.
By marjan hessamfar & joe verons architectes associes, Saint-Cyr-sur-Loire, France
Combining architecture and landscape, the Parc de Montjoie project in Saint-Cyr-sur-Loirewith provides a sense of visual continuity between the school building and the park surrounding it. The combination of wood, concrete and metal in the construction gives the building a warm feel, while the metal and glass façades allow for an elegant structure with a high degree of transparency. With over 16, 500 cubic feet of wood used, the entire roof structure was built in a factory using an optimized, automated method to ensure sustainability. The U-shaped layout creates a centrality that gradually reveals the heart of the building—a courtyard with two playgrounds facing the park, providing easy connections and optimized circulation.
By Salagnac Arquitectos, Nosara, Costa Rica
With its curvy walls, earthy tones and open spaces, the Casa de las Estrellas building is a true reflection of the school’s pedagogical principles. To preserve the environment, the architects adapted the building to the site’s natural topography. A snail spiral for preschool classrooms and six primary classrooms with a modular layout are both included in the design. The main structure is built primarily from plantation wood treated with natural oil, while the roof structure is separated from the sky as a floating roof to maintain cool interior spaces. Overall, the Casa de las Estrellas is a sustainable, inspiring and harmonious “home” in the forest where children can learn, run and play.
By Christensen & Co Architects, Copenhagen, Denmark
The Nordøst Amager School project is a beautiful and sustainable concept design that combines learning and community architecture. The use of wood in the construction not only creates a warm and inviting atmosphere but also reduces the carbon footprint of the building. The leisure zone, with its large interconnected spaces, functions as a driver for creating an active local community. The garden floating above the city offers a peaceful space for both children and adults, while the inner atrium with skylights and a unifying staircase creates a safe learning environment for the youngest pupils. This project addresses several Sustainable Development Goals, making it a perfect example of how architecture can be used to promote sustainability and community building.
By MIKAMI Architects, Yamatsuri, Japan
The Yamatsuri Town project is a stunning example of how wood can be used to create remarkable architecture. By integrating five elementary schools into one space, the project represents a major step in child-rearing support measures promoted by the town. Both the school and gymnasium buildings span two stories and are a beautiful blend of tradition and innovation, with unique wooden designs that are as sustainable as they are impressive. The school building itself features a one-of-a-kind wooden structure that cleverly integrates several functional spaces on the first floor, including a multipurpose hall, home economics room, music room and conference room. This layout creates an inviting communal space that’s open to the entire town, making it a true hub of activity and learning.
By Tectoniques Architects, Lyon, France
Last, but not least is the Paul Chevallier school complex in Lyon — a large, uniquely designed project consisting of a nursery school, an elementary school and a gym. It boasts a distinctive design integrated with its surroundings, occasionally allowing nature to take over. Timber is a prominent feature, with wood panels used for walls, façades and floors. Left exposed, these elements provide solidity and depth to the walls and partitions. Additionally, the roof is made of KLH® panels and the upper story has cavity floors with prefabricated laminates and soft coverings. This construction approach allows for a more efficient and sustainable building process, as well as providing a comfortable and high-quality indoor environment for the students and staff.