11 Innovative and Modern Schools Where Creativity and Good Design Rule

By using innovative design to inspire learning and creativity, the following schools have certainly earned top marks—just in time for the new school year.

From an elementary school in Brooklyn with an edible garden and chicken coop, to plans for a storm-resistant high school in the Philippines inspired by the devastating effects of Typhoon Haiyan, these institutions prove how architects are collaborating with educators to create some very exciting opportunities. 

Studies have shown how color, lighting, and other classroom design choices can have an important impact on student progress, and these design-forward projects not only beautify spaces—creating a comfortable environment in which to learn—but they also tackle a variety of social and environmental issues.

Make sure to shop our back-to-school picks for kids, undergrads, graduate students, and more.

An Edible Learning Garden in Brooklyn

Pioneering chef Alice Waters's Edible Schoolyard programs has now spread to all 50 states. This one at P.S. 216 in Brooklyn opened in December 2013. WORKac, the New York architectural office of Amale Andraos and Dan Wood, designed the glowing structure with raised beds, a greenhouse, chicken coop, cistern, and an indoor kitchen classroom. It even channels runoff rainwater from its roof for reuse in its mobile greenhouse. A glass enclosure (left) slides off the main structure in warmer months to open up to the garden, which contains 1,600 square feet of soil.

Architect Burton Baldridge donated his services to Casis Elementary—his daughter’s large public school in Austin, Texas—to design and build an outdoor classroom that would augment an organic gardening program.

This modern preschool in New Dehli was transformed from a formerly derelict residence. The facade, known as "The Tetrisception," has been decorated with a series of plastered brick cubes, a low-cost and colorful design technique.

Contemporary on the inside and modern on the outside, Larchmont Charter High School in Los Angeles, a midcentury gem originally designed by Welton Becket, underwent a sensitive renovation at the hands of DSH // architecture, and now stands as a model of successful and sensitive adaptive reuse.

After designing a handful of elementary schools in the Connecticut area, Svigals + Partners worked to rebuild Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The firm worked closely with the Newtown community on the design process.

At nearly 80,000 square feet, the Oslo International School is one of Jarmund/Vigsnæs’s larger projects. Situated just outside of Oslo, the school was recently renovated, with some 40,000 square feet of new construction. The colored panels suggest a sunny optimism—something the architects hoped to imbue in an educational context.

Mexico City firm AT103 designed an elementary school that's based on a model of sustainability, both in form and function. Called Kokokali, a hybridization of the Nahuatl kokone (children) and kali (casa, or house), the school layout springs from an organic, flowing ribbon and is crafted from compacted adobe bricks, concrete, and glass—relatively simple and inexpensive materials. A core element of the design scheme is a series of outdoor classrooms and play areas.

MAT-TER, a design studio based outside of L.A, chose bamboo as the primary building material for their proposal for Guiuan National High School in the Philippines "in order to keep the carbon footprint as low as possible throughout all stages of the building's lifespan," and to make the school typhoon-resistant. The bamboo and interior modular units resist the effects of climate change and are flexible to local repair, should a disaster incur damage. These interior units support each other and the flooring system is elevated above ground on a grid of concrete pilotis "to allow wind to pass underneath and protect flooding."

Making use of a sculpted berm, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects built identical 21,500-square-foot dormitory buildings at Haverford College without interior stairwells or elevators, freeing up room for courtyards and more generously sized common spaces.

Lake/Flato Architects clearly made the grade along with associate firm RSP Architects for the five high-,performance LEED Gold-rated buildings and four landscaped courtyards linked by a series of portals and arcades comprising the Arizona State University Polytechnic campus. Easily surpassing the silver rating it first sought, the project was highlighted as one of the Top Ten Green Projects of 2012 awarded by the American Institute of Architecture (AIA). This was the sixth top AIA green prize awarded to Lake Flato, a firm that has earned 43 national design awards.

The serene Raymond and Susan Brochstein Pavilion at Rice University (2009) designed by New York architect Thomas Phifer provides excellent incentive to study. 


Last Updated



Get the Dwell Newsletter

Be the first to see our latest home tours, design news, and more.