The importance of designing better schools

Poor design is all around us in the spaces we use the most during our daily lives, including public schools. The 11th grader from Math Highschool “Geo Milev” in Pleven Anastasia Radeva tells us more about this underlooked issue – and how some Bulgarian interior design studios try to tackle it in her article for sCOOL Media.


Identifying the problem

Poor design is everywhere – from the street layouts to your kitchen knife. That is an inevitable flaw of capitalism – the free market is cluttered with low-quality consumer goods and uncertified services. At this point anyone can provide anything for profit. It has its advantages – there is less bureaucracy involved, innovation is encouraged and of course, a variety of products and business many of them very cheap. Tempting, isn’t it?


It is – up to the point you realize most of the time you are not actually getting what you need, rather an attempt at it. This tendency becomes highly problematic when it starts to affect public spaces and buildings. The way a renovation happens in Bulgaria goes like this: municipalities or institutions hold an open casting for firms that can carry out the project. On these projects’ pages there is little to no information on how and on what principles a firm is chosen. This is a sign of carelessness and negligence. It is probably one of the reasons why many public projects are poorly executed, with lack of precision and expertise to guide, no clear final goal in mind. Public schools are no exception to this tend and there are reasons why we should be concerned with the environment inadequate design creates in them.


Why design matters

The first problem is that opting for unsustainable furniture pieces we would have to replace soon because they are not up to standard or could not effectively fulfil their purpose, results in them being thrown away quickly, which contributes to more waste – a problem caused by a consumer society. We do not invest in sturdy property we know would serve us well. On the contrary, we seem to increasingly make reckless purchases we might regret, because we can always buy a new one later – they are all so cheap. You end up with a new H&M tank top with the trendiest slogan of the month… every month. By the time you get the new one, the previous is “old news”. According to an article by “The Balance” “the average person buys 60 percent more items of clothing every year and keeps them for about half as long as 15 years ago, generating a huge amount of waste”. Schools end up with 15.99$ Ikea tables that are disposed of the moment they are damaged, no need to repair, send it directly to the wasteland, because you can always buy a new one. In the UK alone furniture accounts for 13.5 million tonnes of waste each year. Exhibiting such habits in schools can be harmful as one of the main purpose of educational institutions is to set good example – being wasteful is not appropriate.



Another aspect of the issue is that by not considering certain psychological factors connected to design, we might be hindering the educational process. To start with the basics, colour and material are very important as they can affect one’s emotional state. The walls of a classroom are pale and pastel most of the time because people think they would be distracting otherwise. However, the effect of a colour doesn’t necessarily come from its opacity. Bold colours can be provoking in a good way. The colour purple is supposed to encourage creativity. Light purple is said to result in a peaceful surrounding, thus relieving tension, making it suitable for lounge areas. Green and/or blue are typically considered restful. There is scientific logic applied to this – because the eye focuses the colour green directly on the retina, it is said to be less stressful for your eye muscles.The colour blue is suggested for high-traffic rooms or rooms that you or other people will spend significant amounts of time.


You do want to be careful about using bright colours like orange and especially yellow. They reflect more light and excessively stimulate a person’s eyes which can lead to irritation. So no bright orange blinds and walls as seen in my maths classroom. This can tire you and make processing and concentrating harder. The same goes for different materials and textures. We react to them on a visceral level – subconsciously following instinct we’ve accumulated through experiences in nature.


Good design, on the other hand, can stimulate the brain.


Don Norman, a designer and published author says that when you see something you find positively challenging, the brain releases dopamine under the “happy stress” and it makes you think out of the box – that’s what brainstorming is about. You’re also likely more motivated and believe in yourself.



Examples of designers trying to incorporate little stimuli, “puzzles” in the school environment are springing up even in Bulgaria.


“Interior can be educational”, claim the young architects from studio “Lucio” who work on interior of schools and kindergartens. They try to construct creative spaces, not just the usual dull renovation, not even just a properly designed one, but rather a thought-provoking renovation. Their work can be seen in the Natural science and entrepreneurship centre at the “Nikola Vapcarov” primary school in Berkovica, which provides hallway swings, non-standard lockers, good graphic design and appropriate colour and material choices. All of those have far more educational value than a simple PVC isolation and the carelessly picked-out palette in most school renovations.


In a similar way, visual and overall culture is taught in the new Japanese classrooms at the 138 Secondary school in Sofia, where eastern languages are steadily studied. The auditoriums were designed by the Japanese-Bulgarian studio YAMAZAKI+IVANOVA, using delicate touch, raw materials, a lot of wood and the peaceful simplicity, representative to Japanese culture, which they want to introduce.


We should try and learn to use resources and funds efficiently in order to make the learning environments functional, stimulating and pleasant, with no economising, because it is our future generations we are “cooking there” and no effort should be spared when it comes to  encouraging them and improving their culture and experience at educational institutions. If Norway is now emphasising on more humane, effective prisons, then it is about time we start worrying about our schools.