How to build schools? Many unresolved issues such as access, equity, inclusion, the role of new media, and changing family structures put pressure on the European school system, among others. More than ever, space is acknowledged to play a crucial role as the “third teacher.”1 But the more attention is given to school space, the more general confusion arises among architects, pedagogues, ministries, and school administrators.
The case studies presented throughout this text are part of my work as a practicing architect as well as a university lecturer, researcher, and member of an advisory board to Bundesimmobiliengesellschaft (BIG), a quasi-federal company that administers and constructs a majority of Austrian noncompulsory secondary schools and universities. My understanding of “building” is a broad one, and includes the process before and after the design and building process proper: from writing the project brief all the way to the usage and appropriation of a building once it is built. Architecture is shaped by its own politics of education, of research funding as much as of the normalization impact of architectural standards or parameters, such as the current discursive hegemony of sustainability. In the current debate over schools, concepts of biopolitics, flexibilization of work, and questions of governmentality are challenged by critical concepts of education. There is, however hardly any transfer from such deconstructionist debates into architectural discourses.
How do architects generate knowledge? When we conduct research, what knowledge are we looking for? This text will look at architectural research within the particularly relevant field of school building, itself the paradigmatic place for generating or reproducing knowledge. I aim to examine architecture as the spatial materialization of existing power relations as much as a quite powerful agent itself.