Italy’s ‘Competition of Ideas’ for a New School-Building Programme

Detail of Herman Hertzberger's 2010 Scuola Petrocelli, La Romanina, Rome.

In early February 2016, the Italian government’s Ministry of Education, Universities and Research published some of the details of a ‘Competition of ideas for the realisation of innovative schools’ [pdf, 2.5MB]. It’s open to any professionally recognised architect or engineer in the EU.

I’ve translated Article 2 of the decree law (below) that sets up the competition because it’s pretty interesting for a number of reasons:

  1. The idea of a competition and the way it is managed: Funding has been spread out to the regions in per capita share of their population. Practices/architects can submit only one project overall. The competition idea is interesting because with a winner and runner up for each region, that’s potentially a good opportunity to promote debate about school design & make that debate national through local contributions rather than national by the centre promoting particular designs. In Italy, especially, that’s an interesting way of doing things given its high level of cultural differentiation and very different geography, not to mention needs for seismic protection in some areas more than others. Further, the idea of limiting it to one chance per practice/architect should, in theory, put smaller practices on a more equal footing with larger ones. Giant contractors was a critique of England’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) see, for example, Sam Jacob’s comment in the Architectural Review. But, this way of doing things also raises potential issues.
  2. Summative versus Formative assessment of competition winners: If you have a synchronised competition with all entrants submitting at the same time and winning designs being taken forward, then the opportunities for learning from good design are potentially reduced. For individual practices, the point is winning. For ‘good design’, the point is producing, sharing and being able to learn from genuine developments, something which is harder when a competition is summative.
  3. The criteria they’re looking for: See below. It strikes me that many of the design criteria are ones that are impossible in England’s currently impoverished vision of school architecture and school in general – impoverished that is by government rather than on the part of architects or educators. I’ve highlighted in green the ones that stand out as being off England’s Department for Education and Education Funding Agency’s radars. Happy to correct if I’m wrong. In fact, I’d just be happy to be wrong.

Article 2 – The competition’s objectives

1. The objective of the competition is to gain planning and design ideas for the realisation of schools that are innovative from the perspectives of: architecture; plant and systems; technology; energy efficiency, structural safety and earthquake resistance and that are characterised by new learning environments and the school’s opening to the local environment/surrounding area.

2. In presenting their design and planning proposals, candidates should bear the following aims in mind:

  • Realisation of educational environments that are innovative in the ways they consider pedagogic and teaching needs and in their planning and design of spaces
  • Sustainability in environmental, energy use and economic terms: speed of construction, recyclability of components and base materials, high levels of energy efficiency, use of renewable resources, ease of maintenance
  • Presence of useable green spaces that enrich the liveability of the site
  • The relationship of planning and design to the natural environment, to the landscape and to how these contexts could have an educational function
  • Opening of the school to the local environment: the school as a place of reference for the community
  • The involvement and active participation of interested parties and people [I’m not sure whether this means people being consulted and involved during the planning and construction process or instead refers to the finished building as an inhabited, engaged-with public institution or both]
  • Permeability and flexibility of spaces, the possibility of using all the environments
  • The appeal and attraction of spaces – partly also with the aim of confronting the problem of non-attendance
  • Conception of the building as an educational instrument with the purpose of developing both technical and sensorial skills/competences
  • Attention given to the presence of spaces for professional collaboration and the individual work of teachers
  • The presence of spaces dedicated to research, reading and writing or note-taking [documentazione]
  • A conception of space(s) with both individual wellbeing and sociality in mind.


Update 24/1/17: political change has meant delays to the competion with the first judging panel session being cancelled. Edilportale article However, Edilportale notes that there were 1238 entries for the 51 new schools. That’s a pretty impressive number.




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