On 14 February, the Romanov Dvor business center hosted a public Urban Talks discussion on "School architecture as a tool for individual development". The event was jointly organised by the Moscow Urban Forum and RD Group.
Using specific examples of developments already built or under construction, the participants discussed modern architectural concepts and ways to create a comfortable educational environment for schoolchildren, and the influence of such an environment on personal development. The event took place against a backdrop of a major school building programme in Russia: thousands of new schools, with places for 6,600,000 children, are to be built in the next 10 years.
The event was addressed by Sergey Kuznetsov, Chief Architect of Moscow, and Yana Stretovich, Head of the Moscow Government Department of Education's Office of Construction and Reconstruction. The participants in the discussion also included Russian and international experts: Tim Flynn, Director and Founder of Tim Flynn Architects, Mikhail Mokrinsky, Head Teacher at Letovo School, Niyaz Gafiyatullin, Head Teacher at the International School of Kazan, Mark Sartan, Project Leader and General Director of Smart School, and Marina Bityanova, Director of Tochka PSY, a center for psychological support in education. Strelka KB partner Alexey Muratov acted as the moderator.
Mr Kuznetsov highlighted the need for more schools with individual architectural concepts. Since September 2012, he said, the Moscow Committee for Architecture and Urban Planning has processed 68 approval certificates for architectural and urban planning solutions for educational institutions, including interesting examples such as Khoroshyovskaya Preparatory School, in Moscow, and Letovo School, just outside the capital. Today, said Mr Kuznetsov, a constructive interdisciplinary dialogue involving architects and representatives of education is especially important.
"According to international ratings, Moscow schools are among the best for education, but this status, as the Mayor of Moscow, Sergey Sobyanin, says, can be maintained only by constantly moving forwards, not just by providing them with equipment, but also by bringing new approaches. All this, of course, also requires new design solutions, taking account of the specifics of the constantly evolving educational environment, in which information technology is playing an ever-increasing role," said Mr Kuznetsov.
Ms Stretovich, meanwhile, spoke about Moscow's major school construction plans. This year alone, she said, dozens of projects are to be implemented.
An example of a modern conceptual school is UWC Dilijan, an international school in Armenia built by RD Group and opened in 2014. The project architect, Tim Flynn, Director of Britain's Tim Flynn Architects, talked about its creation and the ideas behind it.
"Before starting work on UWC Dilijan, I visited more than 40 schools worldwide in search of the best architectural solutions. Furthermore, from all this variety we needed to choose those that would work locally, so we always had to take account of the local specifics and the surrounding environment in order for the building to fit seamlessly into the existing space. UWC Dilijan's architectural concept has helped us to achieve a number of objectives – to make the school a center of attraction for the region, to make it blend in with Dilijan's surrounding mountain landscape, and to make the learning process more flexible and effective thanks to the multifunctionality of the spaces in and around the school," said Mr Flynn.
Niyaz Gafiyatullin, Head Teacher at the International School of Kazan, talked about ways to create a relevant educational environment preparing schoolchildren for life in today's rapidly changing world. He also spoke about the teaching formats that their school uses to make education as effective as possible.
Another speaker at the event was Mikhail Mokrinsky, Head Teacher at Letovo, a boarding school opening in 2018. Letovo is located in Moscow, between Salaryevo and Buninskaya Alleya Metro stations, and aims to combine the best traditions of Russian and foreign education. Mr Mokrinsky noted that the school was not just an educational space: it also helps to shape the management and cultural environment.
In turn, Ms Bityanova discussed the need to do more to create schools fit for the age we live in and its requirements. She noted that architects working on concepts for educational institutions needed to bear in mind that they would be attended by children with different temperaments and priorities. For example, while some might need more open space, transparent partitions and picture windows, others might require more privacy.
In the course of the discussion, the experts agreed that every school today needs to meet key requirements such as multifunctionality, flexibility and adaptability to rapidly changing circumstances.