Located on the outskirts, articulated around a tree and with the “tower of books” (the library) running all the way up to the terrace: it is the “school I would build”, a sustainable school model that Renzo Piano, an Italian architect of international fame and life-long senator, has elaborated with master and pedagogue Franco Lorenzoni and psychiatrist and sociologist Paolo Crepet.
On the cover: The drawing in which Renzo Piano represents his ideal school
The project of “the school I would build”
The project was conceived in March 2015 when the master Lorenzoni published an article with the provocative title “Dear architects, rebuild our schools!“. The text is a complaint not only of the serious and urgent problem of the burden of Italian school building but of the inadequacy of the places of education; it is a spur to rethink the spaces, to imagine a more versatile use of classrooms in order to stimulate children’s listening and concentration and to avoid forcing them for hours in uncomfortable benches, limiting their freedom and imagination.
This invitation to act is picked up by Renzo Piano, a pragmatic and persuasive designer who really believes in the social role of architecture. Piano develops, working closely with who knows the school and the students’ needs, the guidelines for future Italian institutes.
The school that Piano, Lorenzoni and Crepet thought it is a school of Montessori inspiration, in which education takes place not only through words but also through the experiences that the child does in the surrounding environment, which must therefore be rich and stimulating.
The spatial articulation of the “school I would build”
In the picture: “Petrocelli” School Complex in Romanina (Rome), by Herman Hertzberger and Marco Scarpinato. Photos © Duccio Malagamba
From the spatial point of view the “ideal school” is designed on three levels where the ground floor is the point of contact between the building and the city; it is then lifted to the ground, so it is permeable and transparent.
In it there are the gym, the auditorium, the labs – workshops: collective spaces of the whole community that allow the school to “live for many more hours than those required by didactics”. They take light from an inner garden in the center of which is a large tree that, with colors and fragrances changing with seasons, teaches the children the change of life and the need for renewal.
In the picture: “The Trees Court”, New Primary School in Cenate Sotto (Bergamo) by Tomas Ghisellini. The project is one of the winners of the 2nd edition of the Renzo Piano Foundation Prize. Photos © Tomas Ghisellini Architects
Classes, one for each age range from 3 to 14 years, are placed on the first floor which is the place for teaching. In it the classrooms overlook the common courtyard, except those for smaller children that open instead on a private garden. The corridors, finally stripped of the mere connection function, are no longer narrow and long places, but large meeting points between large and small.
On the top level there is the roof, the forbidden and the fantasy place, where is possible to watch the world from different perspectives. On this large terrace, shaded by pergolas, the children discover manual activities, thanks to a vegetable garden; astronomy, botanical and sciences labs give shape to what is reported on books, an eliothermal machine captures solar energy while a telescope allows you to look at planets and galaxies: because even sky must not be a limit to creativity some children.
To connect to the three levels, there is the library / media library or, as the architect Piano likes to call the “tower of books”, which stands up from the ground floor to the roof. Open to everyone, it is the place of culture and memory, because besides the books, both paper and virtual, the drawings and other works of the children are preserved.
Renzo Piano for the “school I would build” made a real prototype, a scale model 1: 200 shared with the Presidency of the Council and the Ministry of Education at the end of September in a meeting at Palazzo Giustiniani, home of G124, a working group (6 architects, 3 men and 3 women) on the “suburbs and the city that will be” created by the architect and entirely funded by his life-giving senator’s salary.
It was originally intended for the upgrading of the former Falck area of Sesto San Giovanni (Milan), but it soon became a reference for new school buildings.
The school as a model of sustainability
In the picture: Children’s nest in Guastalla by Mario Cucinella, made with natural or recycled materials with low environmental impact. Photo © Fausto Franzosi
From a construction point of view, the building is designed in wood, low energy consumption and powered by renewable sources, where geothermal energy is used for heating and cooling, while the electricity is produced through photovoltaic systems.
To educate children about respect for nature and resource savings, the school itself must be an example of sustainability and continuous learning opportunity; it is therefore necessary to explain to them that the building that welcomes them did not cause deforestation but gave birth to a new forest, because every new cubic meter of wood used was planted. In this way they will be able to fully understand the beauty and potential of this lightweight, anti-seismic, fragrant and perhaps even underestimated today.
Requalify the suburbs thanks to the schools
In the image: Renzo Piano project for the upgrading of the former Falck area of Sesto San Giovanni (Milan), Europe’s largest urban recovery.
Last but not least is the location: the school of Renzo Piano could not but be in the periphery. According to the Senator, the reunion of the suburbs with the city centers is the great challenge of this century, a challenge not only architectural and urban but above all social.
We must stop building non-places where the center is no longer the center and the country still does not qualify as such; it is enough to build up in an irrational manner. It is necessary to begin to recover and transform the existing one, returning to the periphery the dignity it owes to it. There is no better way to return these “gray spaces” to cities than with the creation of places for education because, as Piano says, you may choose not to visit a museum but everyone has the right and the duty to go to school.
AUTHOR: Vanessa Tarquini