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Designs for Learning

55 Exemplary Educational Facilities from 21 countries
Published by
The Organization for Economic Co-operation & Development, 2001

Book Review by Randall Fielding, AIA

Do you believe in pursuing innovative planning solutions? If the answer is “yes,” take one step beyond thinking outside the box and think outside your country. The OECD’s new publication “Designs for Learning” helps you take that step by providing a tour of 55 exemplary learning environments in 21 countries. The best examples illustrate the importance of the relationship between building and enviromenmet.

Rodo CourtI recently had the good fortune to tour one of the projects while attending the UIA/UNESCO conference “Learning in Public Places,” in Portugal. The Complexo Escolar do Rodo is located in northern Portugal on a farm where the cultivation of vines and the production of port still takes place. The complex includes a secondary school, an institute of professional vocational education and student residences.

The Rodo school is an environment that integrates space for learning, working, and living. The design joins classic architecture and land use with state-of-the art solar heating and ventilation technology. Air solar panels above and below windows provide natural ventilation in summer and winter. Each student learns to produce wine, while also becoming versed in the key regional businesses of tourism. The complex is graced by traditional stone courtyards, a wood press and a tasting room lined with stone walls. A workman was replacing the stone in one of the small courtyards during our visit (photo below).

stone masonMany of the other projects in “Designs for Learning” provide a similar sense of integration between land and learning. The courtyard in the Yanominami Elementary School in Hiroshima, Japan, for example, has students climbing through stones and water in a sheltered courtyard between two teaching blocks. One senses that the water is at least as important as the classrooms.

The ideas in this book are supported by ecologist David Orr who, in an an article entitled “Loving Children: A Design Problem,” informs us of the significance of integration of land, architecture, culture and learning:

“Good design would instruct us in what we need and the terms of our existence on Earth. In other words, the systems we devise to provision ourselves with food, energy, materials, shelter, and health needed to constitute a larger form of education.”

As planners, part of our education is to understand what is happening in other countries. As ecologists, the only context large enough to include all of the important cues is the Earth itself. The OECD’s new publication is an excellent introduction into the global realm of designs for learning.

*** Editor’s Rating

Browse the complete volume for free or purchase at the OECD bookshop

Design for Learning was sponsored by the Program on Educational Building (PEB) a division of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); members include national governments, state and provincial government and research organizations.

The Reviewer:
Randall Fielding, AIA, is the editor and publisher of DesignShare, as well as a practicing architect, specializing in the design of learning environments. He can be reached at:

April 7th, 2006

DesignShare publications are submitted by designers, university professors, architects, planning consultants, educators, technologists, futurists, and ecologists. Publications include podcasts, detailed case studies, conference proceedings, interviews, original research, editorials, thesis projects, and practical design guidelines.


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