Wanting to take our room-transformation a step further this semester, I asked our Professor if it was possible to paint two walls of the Seminar room – to examine student attitudes towards the addition of colour (see Gifford 1996, Ch. 11 for a basic introduction to the effects of colour in the classroom). The request was immediately rejected. Not because the Professor did not like the idea. He explained that the 1970’s building is a protected structure.
“We would get into trouble with the architect, the University Building Administration and I don’t know who else. The building is a work of art by law. It is no joke. The architect has a type of copyright on the building. If you would like to change anything, even the colour in a room, you have to get his permission.”
So, what does an untouchable architectural work of art look like?
1. The school should have dedicated space for group work: “Distance makes it possible to listen and take on criticism. There needs to be space to begin; people can get closer later.”
2. The school library should include individual work spaces. “There are students with no workspace at home. In many families it is not considered an important issue.”
3. Students should be able to “rent” a space from the school when needed: “small rooms with a desk, a shelf, a door where they can leave everything” securely and return to it just as it was left.
None of these elements, however, are present at Grundschule am Tannenplatz. Mühlich explains that incorporating student-orientated elements into school design is an almost impossible task at present in Baden-Württemberg. “There are guidelines, and these guidelines do not include such design.” When Ulm City Council (Stadt Ulm) decides to build a school, it is responsible for construction costs. The County Council, Baden-Württemberg, will only subsidise the cost of construction if the plans adhere to its strict design policy. Rarely can a City Council budget for such an expense alone, thus school designs are always generic and centralised to meet County demands. “A City can build additional rooms later but these are not funded by the County. It would greatly improve the learning environment but the City does not have the money.”
Even before a creative school design project can get to County level for financial approval, it is often scrapped by City Councillors. MFP were recently asked to design a Primary School in Biberach. “Education Ministers in the City approached me and said, ‘We want a really good school. Here are all the elements we want to realise.’ I developed a concept with parents, students, teachers, the principal, Ministers for Education and Family. I developed a concept that was cost-effective and fulfilled as many demands as possible. Then the City Finance Councillor said, ‘Over my dead body. I will pay nothing.’ The Mayor approached me and the Finance Councillor went against that. What happened? They agreed on a new Mensa.”
“All politicians say ‘Our hearts beat only for the school’ but there is always a war.” And the casualties of that war are inevitably the students.
Grundschule am Tannenplatz is a generic school. There is nothing in the design that indicates that this structure is a purpose-built school. It could be a small medical practice. It could be easily converted into an IT office. The first-floor vista that captures the high-rise apartment blocks from which most of these children are drawn is the only thing that roots this structure in the community.
For an outstanding example of how 21st century school design and pedagogy can combine, watch this @BIEpbl video of High Tech High.