Publish at November 26 2017 Updated September 29 2022

The Danish philosophy of school architecture

Why has Denmark taken on this trend of bright, open schools that have architects everywhere salivating?

School architecture has not often been seen as a priority. The important thing is to be functional and provide a setting where children can learn. No more and no less. For example, this has been the Quebec approach until recently.

While some schools stand out, most are enclosed buildings with very right angles and fences to clearly delineate the playground.

Or, some countries have decided to take a very different approach to how they design schools. What could have been simply an aesthetic vision has become a model of national pride that many countries envy. Consequently, Quebec architects dismayed by the current situation cannot help but compare it to a country perceived as the Mecca of architecture: Denmark.

The Danish Dream

This Scandinavian country has long embraced architectural policy; it is one of the things they unashamedly boast about. The Danes love beauty and it shows even in their schools. They also have the sensitivity to adapt their schools to the environment in which they are located. For example, one school in Copenhagen is literally on the waterfront, next to docks where containers are displayed.

However, this industrial setting is quickly forgotten as the campus is covered with 6,000 square meters of blue-green solar panels, reminiscent of the sea. An approach that combines beauty with sustainable development since the light not reflected by the panels is absorbed and transformed into energy. A way for the Danish capital to revitalize a corner of the city that was neglected.


It has always been part of the country's philosophy to use the school environment and modify it without distorting it. Take, for example, the Rødding School located in the south of the country, 60 kilometers from the German border. It was founded in 1844 in a farmhouse to awaken Danish peasants to their language and culture. Since then, young adults from 18 to 25 years old come to study there during several sessions. However, the rural architecture has never been changed. The original building dating from the beginning of the 19th century is still there. However, have been added buildings, but all respect the style of the time.

It would have been easy to simply concrete and asphalt the whole thing to modernize the place, but the goal was to preserve this rustic and green space. Inside, light is paramount and the seating is varied and never in straight rows. The important thing is comfort and openness to be comfortable while working on various school projects.

An architecture that transforms pedagogy

Because these schools aren't just there to look pretty. Certainly, it helps and they are dreamy. Especially schools like the South Harbor School that won an award, not for architecture but for education. Its very open approach, with lots of windows, interior staircases, stimulating exteriors and well-designed play areas in the environment demonstrate that nothing was left to chance. This is because in Denmark there is a real desire for the school to be an invigorating environment both inside and outside.


The educational approach is changing. Indeed, some schools offer classes outside every day including during major snowfalls. In many schools, students are not burdened with formative assignments but participate in projects that will allow teachers to assess their level. Computer classes pretty much always include programming so that little Danes are not just dumb technology consumers, but rather content producers.

There is a notion of trust that transpires in Denmark. The faculty is confident that students will work on their various projects and subjects without constant supervision on their part. They are aware that young people will quickly grasp that they can learn anywhere, not just at school. So this approach is felt through the architecture, which is open and challenging in every corner.

Is the colder, boxier school architecture of many Western countries, such as Quebec, indicative of their view of children and the school system?

"They need to be strongly supervised or they will do nothing!"

No country has a perfect approach to pedagogy. All have their shortcomings. However, Denmark has something to think about in terms of the architectural approach to schools, which is often based more on controlling students than on stimulating their desire to learn.

Illustration: seier+seier hans chr. hansen, architect: hanssted skole / school, copenhagen 1954-1959 via photopin (license)


Aubry, Justine. "Draw Me A School: The Danish Example." 1282 Rue De La Maison. Last updated June 7, 2016.

"In Copenhagen, A Really Sociable And Really Public School." Architecture Chronicles. Last updated June 14, 2016.

Gaudreau, Valerie. "Le Québec Mûr Pour Une Politique De L'architecture?" Le Soleil. Last updated March 13, 2017.

Roy, France. "Rénovation De Deux Structures Scolaires, Au Danemark : Quelles évolutions, quelles perspectives pédagogiques." Education Et Socialisation - Les Cahiers Du CERFEE. Last updated: 1er February 2017.

Svenia. "Schools of the Future in Denmark." Medium. Last updated May 22, 2017.

Sweeney, Catherine. "A Stunning Use of Solar Panels Takes Sustainable Design to the Next Level." Azure Magazine. Last updated July 31, 2017.

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