Death-Star-Plans Was there a conscious Drab Movement in school architecture over the past hundred years? An investment in monotony? Did somebody decide to model schools after factories or prisons, to make the transition easier, or to convince visitors that their legacy is one big, cohesive, monolithic institution, like the Death Star? Resistance is futile?

I hope not, but I fear there’s a grain of truth in there somewhere. Wherever the truth may lie, I’d like to rant about it a bit and suggest another approach: vibrant, colorful and varied school buildings.

First, to get this out of the way, I confess that I can see some advantages in painting all your schools flat, somber gray. You can buy in bulk. Touch up paint is readily available. The maintenance team doesn’t have to dig through the closet to find the right match.

Can you find the elephant?

Can you find the elephant?

Somber gray sets the tone so nicely, too, preparing students to get serious, stop fooling around, and mourn the passing of outdoor time. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here. Plus elephants blend in better.

If I missed anything let me know.

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s why I like vibrant and varied colors:

They make schools look like nice places to spend some time.

Instead of looking like an intimidating institution, the school appears to be a collection of more intimate spaces with distinct identities. This can reinforce individual connectivity, a sense of belonging to a school-within-a-school.

FNIbritishschoolcaracascolorFrom an entirely practical, safety standpoint, varied colors make it easier to identify different sections, especially if they correspond to color coded maps. This is actually a big deal , improving way-finding for at least three important groups: students, visitors and emergency responders. Here’s what I’m talking about:

1. New students can more easily find their way around. Anything we can do to reduce their anxiety is a step in the right direction. Kids who are stressed out have a harder time thinking straight. Thinking is an important element of schooling. You probably already knew that.

2. For similar reasons, we want legitimate visitors to be able to find their way around. If they are intimidated by the facility, don’t speak English or are illiterate, they may be overwhelmed at the thought of dropping in. Why do we care? Because we’d like families to be involved in their kids’ schooling.

3. Color coding can be hugely helpful for emergency responders, particularly if your community has many sprawling campuses. If a disaster occurs, rescuers will rush to the scene. If they know the incident was in the library, which is painted blue, which is represented by the blue square on the map, they can more efficiently find their way.

Disclaimer: just kidding about the elephant.

Beautiful photos all courtesy of Fielding Nair International architects.

Tod Schneider
Written by Tod Schneider

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