The prospect of returning to attending school in person after the first lockdown phase in Italy called into question existing school buildings spaces: the management of activities in class, the in- and out-flows of people, the organisation of daily breaks or the movements of students inside and outside buildings are just some of the many challenges posed by the current epidemic emergency in primary and secondary schools. Starting from these very concrete problems and re-contextualising them into a broader perspective, the Future Urban Legacy Lab (FULL), in collaboration with Fondazione Agnelli, developed a project to intervene in school spaces, with a twofold aim. On the one hand, the research project is intended to provide working solutions to identify and adapt existing spatial resources in order to ensure the best conditions for a safe return to school. On the other hand, a wider purpose of this work is to address strategic planning actions in order to activate a process of renovation of the school building heritage in the medium and long term.
Andrea Gavosto, Marco Gioannini, Stefano Molina, Raffaella Valente
One of the first objectives of the research is to provide school directors – and local authorities – with a practical tool to identify the spatial resources available in their schools and the possible measures to adapt them to physical distancing requirements. The design solutions proposed respond to two time horizons: in the short term, they will give guidance to make school spaces ‘Covid-fit’; in parallel, they aim to activate a medium-term process of renovation of the educational infrastructure. The current emergency is therefore interpreted not only as a challenge, but also as an opportunity to enhance didactic innovation through the transformation of school spaces. Moreover, the extension of the range of design solutions proposed beyond the areas pertaining to school sites – including the neighbouring context and public spaces – enlarges the field of interest of the research, tackling such issues as regional welfare and proximity services.
To tackle the issue on a regional scale, the research team prepared a method aimed at structuring concrete and replicable design proposals for the almost 40,000 school buildings constituting the overall Italian educational heritage.
The first phase of the work consists of studying the impact on regional systems of the opening, closing and/or digitalisation of didactic activities on an Italian national scale. By integrating digital skills and competencies of urban geography and economics, the purpose of this part of the research is: firstly, to diversify the relevance of risk factors on a national level on the basis of analysing the differentiated regional distribution of infection; secondly, to quantitatively assess the resources available both in terms of spaces (i.e. the demographic pressure on infrastructure) and staff (considering also the availability of teaching staff not assigned to specific schools); finally, to evaluate the impact of reopening schools on social inclusion and on the relationship with local economies.
The second phase involves measuring and classifying school buildings (layout, connective spaces, classrooms, etc.) and their micro-urban context (access, relationship with the street network, etc.) according to some recurrent typologies. These typologies result from multiple historical factors and pieces of legislation which have produced different ages of educational infrastructure across Italy. The FULL project compares and integrates this historical-legislative classification with specific spatial cluster analysis and quantitative information on the existing building heritage. Those analyses are obtained by integrating the Anagrafe Nazionale Edilizia Scolastica (National Register of School Buildings) database with other regional databases, starting with the Anagrafe EDISCO Piemonte, a repository of detailed information on all school spaces in the Piedmont region.
The classification ‘by type’ allows the working group to identify and extrapolate some recurrent situations (e.g. classrooms overlooking corridors, central courtyards, main entrances from the street, etc.), in order to explore their potential of transformation on an architectural level. On the basis of data analysis, it is then possible to construct a statistically based correlation between recurrent morphotypes and possible actions to be developed on each building type. To do that, classification and cluster analysis represent the starting point for verifying the statistical relevance of those spatial situations which become the object of specific design indications. This ensures that the design indications developed for short and medium-term perspectives are also replicable in other similar cases identified through a significant correlation between ‘individuals’ (single buildings) and ‘types’ (groups of buildings with similar features). In fact, the design solutions referring to ‘types’ are independent from specific places and cases and are thus adaptable to different contexts in Italy.
The first phase of the work resulted in the drafting of a document entitled ‘Fare spazio. Idee progettuali per riaprire le scuole in sicurezza’ (Make space. Design ideas to reopen schools safely). The report aims to provide a series of suggestions directly addressed at school directors, in order to help them and their colleagues identify the best solutions to adapt the space for teaching activities and to ensure the best conditions for a safe return to school.
The report is based on three main guiding principles. Firstly, the suggested transformations must be timely: as a consequence, to ‘make space’, or rather to make more space, the construction solutions proposed in the report are ‘light’ and immediately buildable. Secondly, they must be achievable with the available resources: there will be time in the future for more structural renovations of school buildings. Lastly, transformations must be reversible: in view of their temporary nature, any intervention must be able to be removed in a short space of time and at low cost, if necessary, when the COVID-19 emergency is over.
The design proposals are based on a detailed quantitative analysis conducted on the scale of the single didactic space on a sample of 3,200 school buildings registered in Piedmont. The analysis allowed the great variety of schools in Italy to be ascribed five main recurrent building types, resulting from different historical periods, technical cultures and legislative frameworks. For each building type, specific spatial resources which could be activated to tackle the current emergency have been highlighted, suggesting ad hoc design solutions and technical tools for a rapid, light and efficient transformation. As a result, the whole report is conceived as a toolbox which can easily be employed by technical and non-technical users as a guide to identify the best spaces to be transformed and the techniques needed to do so. As a matter of fact, the ultimate goal is to offer a tool for empowerment to face a challenge which is, as statistically underlined in the first part of the report, necessarily based on manifest regional variables due both to historical reasons and to the different conditions imposed by the COVID-19 emergency.
In the coming years, school buildings will be one of the main targets in the allocation of European and Italian funds. In this context, as a next phase, the research project could become a tool to support Italian regions in the redaction of guidelines and strategic planning measures for the transformation of the existing school building stock. Following the methodology tested in the report, a number of statistical analytical processes might be employed as a starting point to identify areas of priority intervention (e.g. assessing weaknesses of a technical or regional nature, or questioning the relationship between spaces and didactic activities). After focusing on the emergency in the first phase of the work, the second phase covers medium- and long-term transformations, thus bringing to the forefront further issues and above all, an effort to re-conceptualise the relationship between schools and regions.