The literature of school architecture tends to break in two different directions. On one hand, practical advice guides written by architects and educators date back to the middle third of the 19th century; they were supplemented by a continuous stream of articles relating to design issues in educators’ and architects’ professional journals. By the early 20th century, they developed into extensively illustrated records of contemporary school buildings and design standards. These design guides continue to be published today, often with brief historical analyses included, in recognition of the specialty field that school architecture has become. The other trend for school architecture literature is toward historical analysis. This path has been less vigorously pursued, however, and architectural histories of schools, their spaces, and equipment appeared infrequently until the 1990s. Today, the importance of school buildings, and the many functional, inspirational, and symbolic roles they play, is widely accepted. Scholars have favored post–World War II schools over counterparts from other times, and, in general, the 20th century has been more popular with historians than previous periods. The consistent narrative in these works has involved the impact of evolving ideas about educational theory and practice on architectural spaces. As more histories are published, the field is broadening beyond its long-standing emphasis on American and English topics and the dominance of English-language publications. This collection of sources, which looks only at primary and secondary education, unfortunately reflects that Anglo-American orientation.
School buildings are newer than people think—mass education really began two hundred years ago, and then only in certain countries. Consequently, not that many schools existed before the 1700s. In addition, schools tended to be simple containers until the latter 19th century. Perhaps for these reasons, the field of school architecture suffers from a lack of comprehensive overviews. Only a handful of books investigate the long history of school design, supplemented by some journal articles and dissertations, and all are limited. For example, Burke and Grosvenor 2008 provides the broadest review of school design history but focuses on the 20th century, while Gyure 2018 presents a history of both schoolrooms and schoolhouses but only in the United States. Overview articles by Gislason 2009 and Weisser 2006 offer briefer versions of the development of modern school architecture in England and America. The dissertation by Hammad 1984 is unusual for its appearance before widespread interest in school architecture developed and its attention to the pedagogical theories that drove many of the architectural innovations. The two-volume set by Malcolm Seaborne (Seaborne 1971, Seaborne and Lowe 1977) is a model for future research with its substantial investigation of six hundred years of English school architecture; although most countries lack this deep educational heritage, almost all would benefit from this type of longitudinal analysis. For those interested in a condensed history of British schools, Harwood 2010 is a succinct alternative.
Burke, Catherine, and Ian Grosvenor. School. London: Reaktion Books, 2008.
A superb introduction to the development of modern school architecture that examines the factors that influenced the school building’s evolution, the impact of school design on the lives of students and teachers, the issues affecting contemporary school design, and schools’ “function in society as fragmented sites of cultural memory and creation” (p. 10).
Gislason, Neil. “Building Paradigms: Major Transformations in School Architecture (1798–2009).” Alberta Journal of Educational Research 55 (Summer 2009): 230–248.
A review of significant trends in 19th- and 20th-century American and British school architecture with the thesis that school design has changed gradually over time by building on existing trends rather than abruptly breaking with them.
Gyure, Dale Allen. The Schoolroom: A Social History of Teaching and Learning. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 2018.
A historical survey of the architectural evolution of American classrooms and school buildings from colonial times to today in light of social and educational influences. Includes histories of standard schoolroom “objects” like desks, blackboards, etc.
Hammad, Mohamed Ageli. “The Impact of Philosophical and Educational Theories on School Architecture (The British and American Experience 1820–1970).” PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1984.
Traces the influence of philosophical and educational theories on British and American school architecture. The author discerns four distinct school schemes arising out of these relationships: the central-hall school, the pavilion school, the functional-unit school, and the open-plan school. Provides more information on pedagogical theories than most surveys.
Harwood, Elain. England’s Schools: History, architecture and adaptation. Swindon, UK: English Heritage, 2010.
A slim but informative book that surveys the long history of English school architecture in a concise fashion supplemented by superb photographs. An English Heritage publication intended to raise awareness of historic school buildings and promote their preservation.
Seaborne, Malcolm. The English School: Its Architecture and Organization. Vol. 1, 1370–1870. London: Routledge & Keegan Paul, 1971.
A sweeping analysis of five hundred years of British school architecture, from small medieval monastery schools to the vast urban structures of Victorian London. Explains architectural change as a response to cultural and educational pressures.
Seaborne, Malcolm, and Roy Lowe. The English School: Its Architecture and Organization. Vol. 2, 1870–1970. London: Routledge & Keegan Paul, 1977.
Volume 2 of Seaborne’s history explains the great changes of the modern era, from educational policy and legal requirements to hygiene concerns, war shortages, and modernist design concepts. These two volumes remain the best survey of English school architecture up to the postwar era.
Weisser, Amy S. “‘Little Red School House, What Now?’ Two Centuries of American Public School Architecture.” Journal of Planning History 5 (August 2006): 196–217.
Assesses two centuries of public school architecture, concentrating on the ongoing relationship between architectural form and educational philosophies. The architectural realization of public schools as democratic institutions is stressed.
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