Key considerations when organising schools vertically 

Jun 19
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Sydney’s population is projected to double in size over the next 40 years, according to School Infrastructure NSW. This is the first major increase in the school-age population since the Baby Boom of the 1950s. 

We will see a 21% growth in student numbers (that’s an extra 269,000 students) and need an equivalent 7,200 classrooms by 2031.

The skyrocketing population begs for a vertical model of architecture which allows schools to grow vertically rather than sprawl horizontally. However, while office towers can be approached as ‘one size fits all’, the NSW Architects Registration Board argues that “it is critical that the future of vertical schools is designed to be more than a pancake floorplate stacked building or an afterthought…”

A vertical school space must not only be designed for maximum efficiency, it’s important the mindset is not to fit as many classrooms as possible onto a 1km square block. There are key considerations to be made around pedagogy and how the space supports student outcomes, as well as the experience of students and teachers moving through the building.

NSW ARB’s Vertical School Design report compares several vertical schools internationally to analyse the most successful design elements. Several key considerations which emerged include: 

  1. Ensuring smooth circulation

It generally takes longer for primary school students to move around schools, let alone those with 7 or more stories. Allowing for additional lifts and stairs can help alleviate vertical circulation pressures. The World School, New York, places them strategically in the corners of the building to minimise disruption as stairs tend to be a source of noise 

Conversely, Singapore International School scatters stairs along the atrium to encourage vertical circulation and create more interest and interaction amongst the students. Being in the atrium then also facilitates a sense of being part of the larger school. 

  1. Creating parent spaces

The lobbies of multi-story schools are often also designed to save space resulting in the majority of parents waiting on the street to pick up their child. Singapore International School cites the convergence of people outside the school as a security threat as school admin struggle to differentiate between parents and potential predators. These areas are more important in primary rather than secondary schools.

  1. Providing outdoor spaces

Common features of high rise schools include indoor basketball courts often in the same hall where multiple games happen all at once, but this increases the risk of collision and distraction from lessons. School of the Arts, Singapore, created a ‘New Ground Level’ on the fifth floor which became the area for assembly, the canteen and a breakout space for activities. 

The World School, New York, has strategically partnered with Chelsea Piers Sports & Entertainment Complex which is accessible for all of the school’s athletics and physical education programs. The complex offers a pool, running track, boxing ring, rock wall, soccer fields, among many other features which wouldn’t be possible within the school’s dimensions. 

  1. Staggering break times

Staggered morning and afternoon tea and lunchtimes allow students to make optimal use of limited spaces. Singapore International School restricts students from playing in the classrooms or corridors at lunch to avoid disrupting other classes. 

Montessori College staggers breaktimes to prevent older year groups colliding with the younger ones, while also acoustically separating external spaces. 

Criterion’s School Growth Planning & Delivery Summit, running from 18 – 20 September 2019 at the Sydney Boulevard Hotel, explores other innovative designs for school projects, as well as planning through predictive demographic data, strategic partnerships and stakeholder engagement.

Submitted by Criterion Content Team

Criterion Content Team

This post has been written by the Criterion Conferences Content Team. Based in Sydney, we are an independent research organisation, producing over 90 conferences a year across a variety of industries. Our events, attended by thousands of senior delegates from the public and private sector, are designed to enrich, inspire and motivate. Our focus is on providing innovative, value adding content via our conferences and blogs like this are extension of that principle. You can view our conferences by visiting our website

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