Design Ideas Competition for the RIAI, and Department of Education & Skills, Republic of Ireland: Designing Primary Schools for 21st Century Learners 

Concept – just as the Dandelion grows, flowers and matures, the seeds- the children, leave to new beginnings.

‘There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity underthe heavens’ - Ecclesiastes 3 New International Version (NIV)


C. J. Falconer & Associate's design for a Primary School for 21st Century Learners, is derived from many layers. The initial planning of the design focused on accessing all areas of accommodation directly off the General Purpose Area- the initial layer, and there by forming a common meeting point and main thoroughfare of the school. The surrounding related concentric rings cater for inter related spaces and zoning.

The nature of the design caters for a single storey plan – which lends itself to the accessibility of children and aids supervision. It was important that the scale of the building and form of the building within the site would appeal to these young impressionable primary school children, their teachers and parents.

The environment indicated is created to allow for as much natural planting and tactile surfaces interaction.
The combination of both large & small outdoor and semi covered areas of hard and soft landscaping lends itself to serve the needs of children in self-discovery, informal learning play and social integration, role play, freedom of expression and negotiation with each other, generally on their own terms. This space can be designed to allow for tremendous self-education and autonomy to be cultivated. This also offers the space for ‘time out’, where children can be on their own and can allow for observation.

It is understood from the text of the competition that spoon fed children will find it difficult to engage and to grow in this new world of technology that has taken hold. In a comment from Frank Ryan from Enterprise Ireland stated that ‘the first obvious change we may see over the next 10 years, is that more and more of us will be working for ourselves. Ireland will become a country of entrepreneurs and this indeed is well advanced in its coming about.’ It is important therefore that we do creative an environment in which the children of the up and coming and current generation can indeed begin to think and learn for themselves and that coaching and interactive play will strengthen their development in this regard as well as leadership and team playing skills.

The building is designed with many ‘break out’ areas – both internally and externally to ensure a freedom of creative expression – including that of a high verbal and physical content in exploration. There is a balance however created in the external areas too with promoting a stimulus in the natural environment – by planting and thereby nurturing a caring for the world and for each other.

Each child / “individual(s) differ from one another in their ability to understand complex ideas, to adapt effectively to the environment, to learn from experience, to engage in different forms of reasoning, to overcome obstacles by taking thought. Although these individual differences can be substantial, they are never entirely consistent. A given person’s intellectual performance will vary on different occasions, in different domains, as judged from different criteria. intelligence: knows and unknowns concepts of intelligence. By creating a varied environment of openness and light within natural setting the building can ensure that all children can give each the scope to grow.

The reality now is that street play has declined – over protective parenting has reduced unstructured play – there is a need for this creative play in the schools. External play and a fully thought out external play area comprising of both hard and soft play areas which this building strives to offer, with significant integrated planted areas and biodiversity is of tremendous opportunity for the child’s creative development and overall well-being.


The evolution of a less rigid / less barrack styled traditional rectangular juxtaposition of rooms evolves to that of design to cater for a natural movement - home within a home, a shape that is natural to a child who loves to run around and around and around.

The form of the school consists of a large oval GP Room/ area for large groups at the centre encompassing & sheltering a section of the Junior Play. The next concentric ring consists of education through a mixed media including tactile and self-educational means. The next concentric ring takes hold of interaction, team building, and leadership skills all in a social interaction. The next and final concentric ring consists of the class based education.

Outside of this are garden areas at which various mathematical and problem solving skills are in-acted with the use and play with water, timber, clay and sand. Each classroom shares a garden with an adjacent classroom. Outside of the building itself, the external environment is broken down into four ‘play’ areas to promote physical, inter-social with teambuilding skills and mental training. These consist of the Scientific and Ecology Area at the South of the site, containing a Butterfly and Bee Garden together with a Biodiversity zone- where children can make many healthy herbal food / drink mixes. To the left of this is the Imagination Play Area- social interaction as shopping, selling etc. . Underneath the Drama with Stage and Storytelling Area, underneath again is the Main Exercise/ Sport Area with fitness trial and cycling track, together with the basketball courts.

The lean to roof form works with the concentric oval rings and allows high level natural daylight into the building. The use of Cedar to the building envelope gives a softened and a tactile finish.
The school is divided naturally into two general areas: the area for those 4 to 7 year olds and from 7 to 13 years old. The Junior area allows for greater supervision in the corridor areas. However, it can be seen from the junior side that the seniors obtain a level of greater independence with their shared corridors / breakout areas related to each classroom. It is important that a greater independence is given at this stage of their development and that they earn the respect to do so.

The WC areas in the Junior Side are shared between classes; Craft areas are located on the main general circulation area and would be supervised – the sink & storage facility form part of the main storage section which divides the Classroom bases and juts into the corridor/ breakout space.

The planning of the Multi-purpose and Special Education Rooms located close to the main entrance and also to the SEN Rooms. This provides the varied interaction between the main school children and those who occupy the SEN Rooms. There is also cultivated interaction in the Central Activities Room which it is anticipated will be used by both the Senior Classes and the SEN for a myriad of uses. It is also anticipated that the Multi-Sensory Room will be used by all children within the school.

The GP Room is designed to be sub-divided into two areas should both a Junior and Senior classrooms need to use the rooms simultaneously. The GP Room is also designed to cater for afterhours school use by the general public, as this can be used as a room then and the rest of the school can be closed down, and the use of the servery and WC areas can be used directly from the GP Area.

The main access area to the school is through a Main Entrance Lobby which will be monitored by the Administration. A secondary separate entrance can be used for the SEN for various periods during the day, and again a control of the Office to the Main Entrance has been provided.

The oval plan of the building and the glazing throughout ensures that there is great supervision throughout the building, as one can view from one side through the glazing to another, and this will cultivate and atmosphere of little to no bullying in the school, as one can be seen throughout.

The general environment both internal within the building and external can be seen as one, as the general focus of the entire site and building has been developed in order that a supervised and coached learning environment is created, together with a classroom base where a system of contemporary – self-taught education takes place.

It is envisaged that at the start of each day an assembly takes place in the GP Hall. The classes divide into their various standards and retire to the class base. At this stage a timetable of uses for the multi-use areas takes hold.

It is important that the environment although encouraging independence remains controlled, it is therefore necessary and indicated that from the various entrances parking turning circle, pathways remain completely separate from the main school environment. The various play areas are also kept separate by the use of various environmental fencing, tree stumps, pathways and gateways.

In the school itself the building is divided into Junior and Senior areas with the assigned multi-use areas supervised by staff. Any third party or staff entering the building itself is controlled through the monitored lobby with a control key device. Main access to the SEN Rooms is also through the controlled administration via the lobby area. Quite naturally the safety and controlled means to the school is for the health & safety of the students and staff within the environment.

All aspects as designed for the students are also designed for the staff themselves, to encourage the cross fertilisation of ideas and provide an environment where the staff themselves can remain.

Technical Factor:
The building is designed to move away from the current double loaded corridors which are paramount throughout the country. This favours the school as it encourages fresh air from both in the classroom side due to the shallow plan of 7.5m approximately, and in the corridor fresh air is drawn in from the large courtyards, which ventilate the corridors and neighbouring rooms.

Whilst laminated timber frame structure would be ideal, to meet cost factors a steel modular frame supporting insulated deck roofing and cedar faced insulated external wall panels, thus allowing for flexibility if required.

Roofs are designed to falls to courtyard – it is proposed that temporary collectors will be installed into the courtyard areas to educate students on the storage of rainwater. These collectors will fall to a rainwater harvesting system and a pump systems will send water to a storage tank located in the GP roof void.

The use of a gas fire heat-pump of a 180% efficiency boiler is to be used within the school. The building is designed to meet current Department of Education & Skills required airtightness.

The classrooms are designed generally in a Southerly orientation. Fenestration is designed to be above the minimum requirement of 25% of floor area- thereby meeting the 4.5% required daylight factor. This will incorporate some roof lighting where necessary, although very few of these will be required in this building. All rooms therefore have natural daylight and natural ventilation designed in.

Pergolas have been designed to the junior classes which are mainly on the direct south facing side. It is advised that these pergolas will have a creepers so that during the summer months there is some shade given to the classes and in the winter months the higher level of glazing will allow for direct and the natural seasonal growth of these creepers will allow for the winter sun to be directed to the back of the classrooms. It is therefore anticipated that natural daylight throughout the school will vary and create seasonal atmosphere within the building.

The building shape and form has an integral architectural geometry which have not been considered in most recent buildings. This form of geometry provides another energy which is not listed on the Dept of Education & Skills’ or any OECD country’s guidelines. It is a form of energy that helps tap into the students’ spiritual wellbeing.


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