In a bid to encourage an environmentally responsible generation, the practice of greening schools is on the rise with a host of projects popping up all over the globe.
Greening buildings is a discussion regularly reserved for the commercial industry and, while universities and adult academic institutes have keenly adopted the practice of gaining green credentials, the primary and high school sectors have been a little slow to follow.
Studies have demonstrated that employees are healthier and more productive in spaces that are naturally lit and naturally ventilated and that contain plants, and now architects are translating these designs to the classroom.
A US study revealed that student test scores can improve up to 20 per cent when kids learn in green classrooms, which provide more natural day lighting, improved classroom acoustics, and building materials that don’t release toxic chemicals into the air.
These buildings are also generally cheaper to run and offer the environmental benefit of lowering their carbon footprint.
Paris firm Mikou Design Studio recently unveiled The Zac des Docks development in Saint-Ouen, France, a building which generates its entire energy use on site.
The design firm won a competition to develop the sustainable urban project, which spans 4,820 square metres and is surrounded by high-density apartments and commercial offices.
The highly recognisable Zac des Docks school features an architecturally striking roof designed to help it stand out. Energy is achieved via photovoltaics applied across the building's tiered roof.
Wide triangular roof terraces are lined with larch boards which form a rain screen cladding. The terraces are also flush with foliage and double as play areas, while the building's south-facing orientation delivers maximum day lighting to the classrooms and playgrounds while also maximising the surface area of the photovoltaics.
While this project has been celebrated for its energy efficiency, other schools are using their green credentials to educate their students on the environment.
A couple of months ago, the US Green Building Council announced the two “greenest schools on Earth” for 2013: The Uaso Nyiro Primary School in Kenya and Sing Yin Secondary School in Hong Kong.
The Uaso Nyiro Primary School is located in Kenya's dry central highlands and was constructed from local materials. It collects all its own water and teaches its students about water conversation in addition to reading and mathematics.
British architects Jane Harrison and David Turnbull led the design initiative through their Waterbank Schools project. That project consists of rainwater-harvesting schools and is being replicated across Africa.
Harvesting rainwater is a boon, as studies show that before the year 2020, 75 million people will die from drinking unsantisied water. A further one billion people do not have clean water, one third of whom live in Africa.
The school collects approximately 350,000 litres a year, storing it underneath a central courtyard in a water tank. The water is then filtered and treated.
Since it opened, school attendance in the surrounding has risen from 70 to 90 per cent and instances of waterborne disease have dropped precipitously.
The Sing Yin Secondary School in Hong Kong, which educates mostly low-income students, features an organic farm, two green roofs, a bamboo corner and an aquarium.
According to the US Green Building Council, most of the school’s classrooms feature thin-film solar panels or sun-shading devices, advanced LED lighting along with motion and light sensors.
About 100 students serve as environmental monitors and within the community, where students and their families are invited to participate in the ‘Green School, Green Family’ campaign that encourages conduct energy saving activities to save household electricity.
Australia has also made considerable progress in greening schools with about 20 primary and secondary schools achieving Green star certification. Across the country, 120 education projects, from entire schools to new university faculties, are working toward certification.
“What we need to do here in Australia is take the politics out of education," said Green Building Council of Australia executive director Robin Mellon in a statement. "We need to invest in brighter, healthier, more productive, more efficient and certainly more resilient education facilities.”
At Canberra’s Harrison School, education is as key as the school’s green design. The building is cooled by thermal stacks that vent hot air out its top, and it utilises rainwater for landscaping and toilet flushing. The building is also orientated to maximise solar gain, which is used as its primary energy source. That has allowed the school to halve its energy consumption when compared with typical schools.
“If we get kids to reuse, recycle, close a door, put a jumper on, use water sensibly, all those types of habits are they key things that will make a sustainable school retain its value to society," Harrison School principal Dennis Yarrington told Green Lifestyle. "You might have a five Green Star building and all those heat-saving and cooling measures, but if you leave doors open it defeats the purpose. So changing habits is a really important aspect of environmental sustainability."
These projects all aim to communicate their environmental initiatives. While they may achieve industry certification, offer healthier spaces and improve academic performance, it is important that their inhabitants understand the environmental opportunities within their working, living or learning environments.