Gone are the days of traditional school structures.

Now more than ever, there’s a growing demand for schools to raise the bar when it comes to their learning facilities. Today, teachers, students, parents and governments are looking for empowering educational spaces that provide room for interaction, collaboration, engagement and community connection.

So how do we cleverly design schools that accommodate to these ever-changing needs?

It all starts at the Programming and Masterplanning stage.

This stage is the most critical in order to lay the foundation for a school’s long-term success and ensure all facilities are operating effectively.

More importantly, it is our job as designers and architects to rethink educational spaces and find innovative ways to make the learning space inclusive, secure and engaging for the students.

In this article, I’ve narrowed down my top 5 tips to mastering your Masterplan.


Remember, schools are not just buildings, they are spaces to inspire and educate students. Knowing the purpose of the educational facility is key in order to successfully plan your build. To do this, think about what unique strengths the school offers. Are they focused on play and need outdoor spaces? Do they excel in science and need innovative laboratories? Is the school community driven therefore requires more open, interactive spaces?

School builds are best curated slowly with a team of trusted advisors who understand and support the uniqueness of your learning facility. Once the purpose and reason for its existence are clearly defined, it will be much easier for everyone to stay on brief and curate a Program and Masterplan best suited for the school.

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Today’s best learning environments might not be tomorrow’s and the biggest challenge in planning is predicting the future. Seeing as that’s near impossible, creating flexible spaces and considering modular design is key. Allowing for flexible and collaborative spaces such as common rooms, lecture halls, extended learning areas and media centers help schools modify spaces to their needs and prepare for the future without confining them to a rigid plan.

Flexibility can easily be achieved in even the smallest rooms by using operable glass walls and sliding doors. This will also allow teachers to adapt their environment to fit a variety of learning styles and activities, from individual tasks to large group exercises. Whether it’s a daily, weekly, or yearly modification, a school must be flexible to change and evolve to the needs of its students. This must be considered during the programming and master planning stage.

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The physical site conditions such as accessibility, orientation, topography and context are one of the most important factors of Masterplanning. In particular, it provides an opportunity to address any traffic issues, pedestrian movements and entrance/exit concerns.

In addition to these factors mentioned above some of the other common site considerations include:

   •    Zoning and grouping of public & private spaces.
   •    Ensuring there are safe and adequate walkways, pavements and crossings.
   •    Ensure there are adequate and well monitored & controlled entrances/exits.
   •    Secure and safe fencing
   •    Shaded waiting areas and passages
   •    Parking facilities, drop-off zones and its distribution/circulation to ensure smooth and safe operations
   •    Unobstructed monitoring of students to quickly identify any behavior that is unusual and potentially dangerous

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A mind-blowing budget doesn’t necessarily mean a school will automatically be a success. In fact, a tight budget can often force you as an architect or designer to think outside the box and come up with innovative ways to make an impact.

Applying cost-effective principles in the planning, design, construction and operation of the facility will ensure you stay on track and on budget.

Considering recyclability of materials, ease of maintenance, and energy-efficient facilities such as double glazed windows and insulated walls and ceilings will also significantly lower the school’s operational costs.

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The physical appearance of a school should not be overlooked early on during the Masterplanning phase. A beautifully designed building both internally and externally builds a sense of pride and ownership among students, teachers and the community.

An exterior and interior environment that is comfortable and stimulating by integrating massing, shading and natural lighting and sustainable strategies are all key Masterplanning factors to consider.

The exterior should also complement the surrounding neighborhood and reflect the community and school values.

I’ve elaborated on aesthetics in my previous article, ‘Creating Positive Educational Spaces’.

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These are just a few of the factors that can help you master your Masterplan and create a
school that inspires and excites its students. As we have been successfully designing K-12 schools for over 40 years, we have found that implementing the above can be the difference between creating a school that is an exceptional success and an expensive failure.

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