From traditional classrooms to a modern learning environment. Søndervangskolen in suburban Aarhus has succeeded in redesigning an old public school to a contemporary learning institution with help from SMAK Architects and Holmris.Designbrokers.
“Design matters. It matters how learning environments are developed and designed.”
These words belong to Martin Bernhard, Vice Headmaster at Søndervangskolen in the southern part of Aarhus, Denmark. During the last few years, his school has undergone a noticeable transformation, from out-of-date classrooms to up-to-date, differentiated learning areas. And the direct effect of the makeover is just as striking as the new design.
“We measure everything we possibly can: grades; satisfaction from pupils, parents and teachers; absenteeism and so on. All the parameters have shown a positive upward-sloping curve over the last few years, and the design of the building as well as the interior supports this good work of ours,” the Vice Headmaster explains.
From 2009 to 2016, the pupils’ average mark in ninth grade increased by almost 3 points, while the estimate of their educational readiness went from 63% to 91%. In the same period, the absenteeism per cent for employees at the school dropped from 31.3% to 10.4%.
Design Supporting the Learning
SMAK architects are the firm behind the redesign, while Holmris.Designbrokers were chosen to deliver the interior. Martin Poulsen, architect and partner at SMAK, describes the redesigning process as involving a good, close collaboration with the school.
“The redesign of Søndervangskolen builds on a lot of dialogue and communication about how we get the pedagogical, didactic and architectonic environment to play together. Basically, it’s about establishing environments that can support the learning instead of just satisfying an organisational structure. We designed activity-based learning environments because children are different and learn differently. Some kids learn best in groups, while others work best alone and some must jump the five-times-table to remember it,” tells Martin Poulsen, who follows up with a question:
“Why design a classroom with 28 identical workplaces, when you have 28 different pupils?”
For the same reason, SMAK architects designed differentiated classrooms to support the individual learning styles. This means a fixed interior and constructions to make sure the furniture stays at specific positions and is not moved back into lines, as is the case in a regular classroom, plus an additional focus on the working process rather than the teaching.
“The one who works is the one who learns. That’s why we have taken out the procurement and put in actual work for the pupils to do. People are more flexible than space, architecture and furniture, and it should be like that! That’s how you learn best,” Martin Poulsen says.
While SMAK has overseen the physical redesign, Holmris.Designbrokers has been responsible for the interior, and Martin Bernhard from Søndervangskolen has no doubt that Holmris.Designbrokers was the right company to entrust with the assignment of the interior design.
“A chair isn’t just a chair – it must fit into the design proposal, have the right colour, be long-lasting and ergonomic, while at the same time it should fit the surroundings. Rumour had it, that Holmris.Designbrokers would be able to do the job. I had seen some of their work at another significant educational institution and their solutions were impressive,” Martin Bernhard tells and continues:
“When doing a redesign like ours, you must have an eye on both the design and budget to find a way to find the right balance between them. SMAK architects and Holmris.Designbrokers solved our case with creative solutions and good design proposals, which contributed to the upscaling of the school’s physical expression and could benefited pupils, parents, locals and us as professionals, who come here every day,” Martin Bernhard ends.
Søndervangskolen is a full-day school with 320 pupils between preschool class and ninth form. Around 97% of the pupils at Søndervangskolen are from different ethnic backgrounds.