February 23, 2007
by: Carolyn Sponza AIA LEED AP

Event: A New Architecture for a New Education symposium held in conjunction with the exhibition “School Buildings – The State of Affairs: A New Architecture for a New Education”
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.03.07
Speakers: Bruce Barrett – Vice President of Architecture & Engineering, NYC School Construction Authority; Barbara Custer – Principal, Nordstrasse Elementary School, Zürich; Richard Dattner, FAIA – Dattner Architects; Manuela Keller-Scheider – Zürich University of Teacher Education; Daniel Kurz – architectural historian, Zürich Building & Zoning Department; Kelvin Shawn Sealey, EdD – founder, Design Lab for Learning Organizations at Columbia Graduate School for Architecture, Planning and Preservation; Tony Vinzenz – Director, Department of Schools and Sport, City of Zürich; Markus Ziegler – Immobilien-Bewirtschaftung, City of Zürich.
Moderator: David M. Steiner – Dean, Hunter College School of Education
Organizer: AIA New York Chapter Committee on Architecture for Education and Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich/ Wohnforum
Sponsors: Holcim, Think Swiss, The Consulate General of Switzerland in New York


Falletsche School, Zurich-Leimback, Switzerland.


American architects and educators might benefit from looking at recent European models and rethinking the fundamentals of educational building design. In Zürich, the educational structure is departing from the traditional “banking” model, where information is “deposited” into students by teachers. According to Tony Vinzenz, Director of the Department of Schools and Sport in Zürich, teaching is evolving into a team effort intended to “tap the individual potential of each child,” a change that demands more flexibility and connection among classrooms. Extended school hours also increases demands on space, and integration of technology challenges the rigid classroom layout of traditional school buildings.

Even though Zürich faces similar problems to NYC, NYC must address the issues on a larger scale. According to Markus Ziegler, of Zürich’s public real estate department Immobilien-Bewirtschaftung, the amount of school space available in Zürich has doubled since 1940, while the number of school children has decreased by 21%. In NYC, the School Construction Authority houses over 1 million children and plans to add 63,000 seats to the city’s schools within the next five years to keep pace with demand. So while clustering classrooms and providing flex space is desirable in new schools, the question remains how New York’s 1,300 existing facilities can adapt to house new teaching models. “Schools change constantly, while the school buildings stay built,” said Ziegler, an idea that architects should seriously consider when designing tomorrow’s schools.

Carolyn Sponza, AIA, is an architect with Beyer Blinder Belle Architects and Planners and is the AIANY Chapter Vice President of Professional Development.


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