The future of learning might be in a garden

International design and innovation office Carlo Ratti Associati designed The Greene School, a new educational complex in West Palm Beach, Florida, named after its founders, philanthropists Jeff and Mei Sze Greene. Based on the concept of a learning garden – an organic space for discovery and growth – the project pushes the boundaries of school design by providing students with a porous environment in which they can seamlessly experience both technology and nature, living and studying in a collaborative way, inside the classroom and outside.

The Greene School will combine an innovative architecture with forward-looking teaching methods, generating a unique learning experience. Inspired by Harvard scientist E.O. Wilson’s “biophilia hypothesis” – the idea that there is a natural, instinctive bond between human beings and the natural world – the 20,000 square-foot venue will welcome high-performing students from pre-K to fourth graders.

“Fostering a sense of community has become one of the most important goals in the design of new teaching spaces. The more we can share spaces, collaborate and exchange ideas with each other, the more creative we get”, says Carlo Ratti, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a founding partner of Carlo Ratti Associati: “The Greene School’s nature-inspired facilities encourage socialisation throughout the venue”.

Located inside the structure of a former car dealership, now completely renovated, the school is designed around two central shared spaces: the ‘piazza’ and the garden.

“The idea of the Italian square as a welcoming gathering place has found new energy in the digital age, when each virtual relation is matched by the necessity of an encounter in the space”, adds Ratti:

“In the Greene School, the piazza will be the most authentic expression of a community of learners”.

The union of nature and technology is evident in many aspects of the Green School design. For instance, all classrooms open to the outside, through a series of transparent tilt doors permitting the maximum degree of porosity between inside and out. The large green area adjacent to the school building includes a vast array of facilities that foster socialisation, including organic gardens, a fab lab to familiarise students with the basics of digital fabrication, and a soccer field and tennis courts. And the school’s library is located in a cabin in the woods – just like in a fairy tale.

Robotic machines will be a big part of the school’s daily environment, transforming it into a lab designed to stimulate children’s curiosity and intelligence. The whiteboard – a key feature of every teaching space – has been radically reinvented for the Greene School, and will take the shape of a “vertical plotter” which can be controlled via tablet, with several mechanical arms that can write simultaneously.

With this project, Carlo Ratti Associati builds on the success of previous projects in the field of educational architecture. These include the reconstruction of a vast school complex in Cavezzo, a small town in northern Italy severely damaged by the May 2012 earthquake. Cavezzo’s school was developed according to the guidelines of Reggio Children, one of the world’s leading centers for the study of the relationship between school architecture and the natural environment.

“Carlo Ratti is one of the leading design minds in the world”, said Jeff Greene, founder of The Greene School. “He has a keen understanding of how to create cutting-edge educational facilities. Carlo’s involvement is another example of how we are scouring the globe to assemble the brightest minds for each component of The Greene School.”

The school will open for its inaugural academic year in September 2016 with classes from pre-K to fourth graders.