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School building design: the complete guide

School building design projects: here is a guide with technical and regulatory elements to consider together with examples, 3D models and DWG resources ready for download

This week’s Projects Focus will give an overview on non-residential building types, starting off with the analysis of a school building. Particularly, we will examine the case study inspired by the a nursery school project in Italy designed by Mario Cucinella‘s architecture firm.

You can immediately download the 3D BIM model and the DWG project drawings (floor plans, cross-sections, elevation and isometric views) produced with a professional software for architects and engineers.

Download the 30-day free trial version of Edificius, the architectural BIM design software to achieve similar results.

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School building design: interior rendering produced with Edificius

Download the project 3D BIM model (.edf file)

Click here to download Edificius, the architectural BIM design software

School building design elements

School buildings design, and more generally places for education, have always had a strong symbolic value that refers to the history of man.

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School building: entrance render produced with Edificius

To conceive a facility destined to teaching and education, some architectural concepts need to be considered:

  • the close relationship with the place,
  • spaces distribution and articulation,
  • the most recent acquisitions in terms of spatial dynamism and relationship with the environment, seen as a place to be preserved, no longer just to live.


    School building area view – produced with Edificius

During the design stage of a school building, location is a fundamental aspect to take into account, or the community context where to build the school. The school structure must be designed by firstly identifying the necessary spatial functional units while creating an organized and efficient space arrangement.

For a long time, the classroom has been the only place for school education. All the other spaces were, in comparison, instrumental or accessories. Each space was designed for a single activity and remained unused for the rest of the school day.


School building: interior details – render produced with Edificius

Today, school needs to be reconsidered as a unique and integrated space, providing comfortable, functional and flexible environments to accomodate students and host activities.

The “learning landscape” in school building projects needs to be reconceived (classroom spaces, connecting spaces such as entrances, corridors and stairs, laboratories and common areas) reconciling learning and relationships, individual needs and social needs.

school building design- isometric view produced with Edificius, the architectural BIM design software

School building isometric view – produced with Edificius

In addition to the didactic functions of the schools, extra-scholastic activities are also open to the cultural and social life of the local community, where the school complex becomes a center of aggregation. Therefore, a school becomes a sort of civic center.

Lastly, another fundamental aspect is the management and maintenance that can be easily carried out thanks to a facilities management software for schools.

Urban aspects

School areas must be chosen to be transformed into connecting elements and future civic centers. Ideally, schools should be in healthy areas, with little noise, distant from busy roads, with spaces destined to sporting and recreational activities.

Furthermore, schools should be well connected to public transport networks and their access should be easily reachable from the road and from both cycling and pedestrian safe routes.

Parking areas with adequate size must be provided for children transportation to ensure children safety.

In school complex areas, covered spaces must be designed and appropriately equipped for bicycles and mopeds parking, depending on the number and age of students.

Spaces fo school activities

When examining school building projects, it is useful to define school spaces requisites by dividing them into areas.

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School building floor plan – produced with Edificius

School hallway

The hallway is the first point of contact between school and society.

The hallway refers to that part of the school easily identifiable and controllable that is accessible from the entrance by students.

All school entrances must be subdivided according to their function and use. In addition to the main entrance for students, there must be admission for teachers and the administrative staff, the service entrance for the kitchen supplies, offices and libraries, security entry / exit for emergency vehicles, access to areas for extracurricular activities open to the public.


The classroom is no longer the center of the school.


School building: interior render produced with Edificius

It is an important but not autonomous “place” in which group or individual activities can be carried out. Classrooms are equipped with special architectural features, such as sliding walls, mobile and easily modifiable furniture, adapting these environments to different activities.

The classroom transformation takes place in different and progressive ways depending on the type of school and the age of students.

An adequate modularity of the installation systems, such as air and lighting systems, should be planned so to give the possibility of varying spaces and to easily adjust the external lighting according to activities that will take place.

Toilet facilities

Toilet facilities will need to have dimensions and characteristics according to the age and number of students.

Toilets must preferably have direct light and be naturally aired, otherwise they must have artificial lighting and artificial ventilation system installed. In any case, architectural measures or extractors must be provided to prevent foul air inside the school.

Like the changing rooms, toilets also must be distinguished by users and by gender, students, administrative and teaching staff, auxiliary staff, visitors, for direct users of the sports areas or intended for extracurricular activities.


School building elevation view- produced with Edificius

Spaces for sports activities will have toilets within the changing rooms and dedicated services for first aid, possible offices for sports clubs and for visitors.

All school environments, teaching spaces, administrative offices, agora, sports areas, must have access to sanitary facilities for people with mobility impairments or sight impaired.

These services must be present on every floor and to be easily accessible.

Secretary and Administration

Administrative spaces, which support learning areas, must function independently from teaching activities or the civic center.

Their location must be easily detected by the school atrium and they should be accessible without interfering with the teaching activities while also having an independent installation systems management.

The administrative spaces must include spaces for public management with adequate waiting areas, areas dedicated to confidential interviews with parents with the necessary attention to the problems related to privacy.

Furthermore, offices must be designed according to the size of the school.

School building design - cross-section produced with Edifiicius, the architectural BIM design software

School building cross-section – produced with Edificius

Environments for teachers

Teachers must have spaces for meetings, for research, with study areas and library, spaces for relaxing, documents archives, individual lockers, separate toilets and showers.

In addition to toilets, disabled facilities must be provided on each floor, easily accessible both by the staff and the public.

Auxiliary personnel

The auxiliary staff needs to have changing rooms with individual lockers separated into two parts with both clean and dirty sections which are directly connected to toilets with showers.


School building design exteriors – render produced with Edificius

To further examine aspects relating to the importance of spaces involved into learning processes we suggest the following document: “Guidelines on Exploring and Adapting Learning Spaces in Schools ”, drafted by the Ministers of Education Interactive Classroom Working Group (ICWG) of the European Schoolnet (EUN)

Politicians, consultants, headmasters and teachers from eight countries (Austria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Portugal and Switzerland) participated to write this document.

School buildings project examples: ‘La Balena’ nursery by MC Architects in Guastalla


La Balena nursery windows render – produced with Edificius

The main idea beyond Mario Cucinella Architects project envisaged a living space where children are protected while not feeling in a closed place.

This is an example of architecture reproduced with environmental low impact materials. The whole structure consists, indeed, of curved wooden frames that resemble the belly of a whale. Windows rather than walls divide the different classroom and the interior from the exterior, thus allowing a constant relationship with nature.


La Balena nursery hallway – render produced with Edificius

The high insulation, the optimal distribution of transparent surfaces (maximum transparency on the southern front, maximum opacity on the east, west and north facades), the use of advanced systems for the collection of rainwater and the adoption of photovoltaic systems on the roof allow to finally minimize the use of mechanical systems to meet the energy needs of the building.


External classroom of La Balena nursery – render produced with Edificius

On the outside, where a garden of senses has been designed, there is a small wood rich in bushes and aromatic plants and that is watered through a rainwater harvesting system.

Finally, the connection areas between the classrooms and the laboratories are designed to be lived with curiosity: there are playing and social areas, transparent elements to look outwards or peek at the activities of the other children.

school building design - La Balena nursery- render architectural BIM software

La Balena nursery: exteriors – render produced with Edificius

Download the project BIM model

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Download the DWG project drawings in .zip format