What is the classroom of the future? (hint. answers below)

At TED Global UK PM Gordon Brown made a rather remarkable speech about bringing the world together through a shared and common goal. Nothing can be more unifying than the improvement of education for all children on this planet.

What began as a simple question two years ago has sparked the input and collaboration of over 10,000 students, teachers, architects and engineers from hundreds of public, private and informal schools in more than 65 countries all seeking a solution to a common issue - how can we create innovative, sustainable yet affordable and adaptable learning environments?

Today, eight teams were honored as finalists of the international design competition 2009 Open Architecture Challenge: Classroom. More than 1,000 design teams from 65 countries registered for the competition. Over a four-month submission period hundreds of ideas were generated around the world. Finalists submitted designs ranging from an outdoor classroom for children in inner-city Chicago, learning spaces for the children of salt pan workers in India, safe spaces for youth in Bogota, Colombia and a bamboo classroom in the Himalayan mountains.

Architecture for Humanity, principal partner Orient Global and a consortium of more than 20 organizations officially launched the competition during at the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos. This initiative invited the architecture, design and engineering community to collaborate directly with students and teachers to rethink the classroom of the future. Designers entering the competition were given a simple mandate: collaborate with real students in real schools in their community to develop real solutions.

collaborating in inner city schools in New York City

collaborating in a rural school in Victor, Idaho

The open source anonymous competition meant that everyone from school children in the Ukraine to Pritzker Prize winning architects had an equal opportunity to stake their claim at developing an innovative solution for the future of one site specific learning environment. Each submission was rated on feasibility, sustainability, innovation in learning and overall design quality by a team of 50 interdisciplinary online jurors. After four rounds of judging culled the designs a shortlist of 52 teams were judged at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

Out of this eight finalists were selected and represented teams and schools from Colombia, Czech Republic, India, Nepal, Uganda, United Kingdom and the United States. Next month one of these teams will be announced as the overall winner and awarded $50,000 toward the improvement of their school. The design team will also be awarded $5,000.

The finalists are:

Project: Adaptable Hillside Classrooms
Design Team: Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios & Architecture for Humanity UK
Engineering Team: Buro Happold
Partner/ Location: Bunyonyi Community School, Kabale, Uganda Learn More

Project: Bamboowood School
Design Team: Petr Kostner, Martina Sobotková and Soňa Huberová, Czech Republic
Partner/ Location: Antarastriya Yuba Barsa Lower Secondary School, Lakhanpur - Teksing, Kavre, Nepal Learn More

Project: Classroom for the saltpan community, Cohesion Foundation
Design Team: Rajesh Kapoor, Prashant Solanky, Bharat Karamchandani and Kiran Vaghela, Gujarat, India
Partner/Location: Cohesion Foundation, Kutch, Gujarat, India Learn More

Project: Teton Valley Community School
Design team: Section Eight Design, Idaho, United States
Partner/ Location: Teton Valley Community School, Victor, Idaho, United States Learn More

Project: A Sustainable Community Classroom
Design Team: Gifford, London, UK
Partner/ Location: Building Tomorrow, Uganda Learn More

Project: House In The Wood
Design team: Built Form, LLC / Northwestern University Settlement House, Chicago, IL, United States
Partner/Location: House In The Wood and Rowe Elementary School, Delavan, Wisconsin, United States
Learn More

Project: Justified Architecture in a Landscape of Transformation
Design Team: Arquitectura Justa - Wolfgang Timmer, Fabiola Uribe, T. Luke Young, Bogota, Colombia
Partner/ Location: Corporación Educativa y Social Waldorf, Ciudad Bolívar, Bogota, Colombia Learn More

Project: Blurred Classroom
Design team: Gensler, New York, United States
Partner/ Location: Future Leaders' Institute, New York, NY, United States Learn More

Why Did We Do This?
The need for safe, sustainable, smart classroom design has never been greater. Worldwide, 776 million people are illiterate. With less than six years left to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals, the World Bank estimates ten million new classrooms are needed to reach its target equal access to primary education. In addition, tens of millions of crumbling facilities--including many in the United States--are in urgent need of upgrading. Meeting this need for classroom space will constitute the largest building project the world has ever undertaken. The world will need to spend in excess of US$ 100 billion just to meet current demand for classrooms.

On a more personal note, it began quite simply with the passing of an individual living in FEMA trailer after Hurricane Katrina. The team at Architecture for Humanity began to study the physical makeup of trailers and as the story of environmental concern began to unfold a startling and overlooked issue emerged. Many older portable classrooms contain the same chemicals and materials that increase the risk of cancer and exacerbate existing health problems. The difference being that in the United States there is around six million children and thousands of teachers working in these boxes. Knowing there was not the political will to change the way we house overcrowded schools the idea emerged to design an energy efficient, sustainable and creative learning space.

Naturally as word spread of a classroom redesign competition and more research was done internationally Architecture for Humanity found that almost every nation on earth was suffering from a lack of clean, affordable and safe classrooms. Rather than ask the worlds' architects to design an imaginary classroom the idea of collaborating with a real school emerged. Fortunately Global Orient had made a commitment to upgrading low cost schools around the world and were also seeking a portfolio of innovative solution - suddenly a competition was borne. Working with Curriki an open source curriculum was developed to allow architects to go into schools and teach/intergrate basic architecture into existing lessons. Streaming interactive videos were produced by Global Nomads bringing together design professionals from three continents into the classrooms. It created some interesting notions of architecture especially if the first architect you met was the first female licensed architect in Pakistan and who is dedicated to affordable housing (as in the case of Jasmine Lari). What was not expected was both the sheer number of people that got involved but the hundreds of incredible stories that emerged.

At a minimum this competition created a global interaction between architects who care about learning environments and the people who are most affected by their creations - the children and their teachers.

What Next?

Serving as a catalyst to build safe, sustainable and smart educational facilities around the world, the competition has ending up creating an online portfolio of design solutions, all licensed under Creative Commons and viewable at the Open Architecture Network. School districts, independent schools and social entrepreneurs from around the world (and especially the United States) can now download, adapt and replicate these ideas in their current and future learning environments. Folks like Arne Duncan and his team can be proactive in promoting a more holistic approach to improving education in the United States.

Beyond the awarded funds, three building partners, Rumi Schools of Excellence in India, Building Tomorrow in Uganda and Blazer Industries with The Modular Building Institute in the United States have committed to build classrooms based on selected designs. An international traveling exhibition is set to launch in the fall and in a few weeks one school will receive $50,000 specifically to improve their earning environment.

On Friday Architecture for Humanity will be honored by Michelle Obama at the White House for its' contribution to design, as part of the National Design Awards. While winning in 2008 for its' work in responding to both disasters and systemic issues of poverty, the recognition really represents the world of thousands of individuals coming together through the power of design to improve the lives of others. This competition showed that groups from across the globe did not wait for political will or to be instructed in order to come together with one ideal - to create more equitable opportunity for the next generation to learn about what it means to live in one world. Who knows, perhaps a few of these solutions will lead to the classroom of the future.

To see all the entries and for more information, please visit: http://www.openarchitecturechallenge.org