There has been some debate surrounding the impact architecture has on learning. Studies have found that students perform better in math, reading and standardized tests in certain environments – particularly in learning spaces that feature outdoor views, an abundance of natural light, and greater mobility and movement. And when you consider the fact that teaching methods are adapting with the times, it’s not surprising that school buildings are being updated and modernized, too – incorporating contemporary teaching initiatives and eco-friendly architectural designs. The following 30 high schools showcase impressive modern buildings, whatever your pedagogical stance may be.
30. Ramón C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts – Los Angeles, California
Previously known as Central Los Angeles Area New High School #9, the Ramón C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts is arguably among the most aesthetically impressive high schools on this list – as well as one of the most expensive. The innovative campus in downtown Los Angeles cost $232 million to build and was designed by international architecture firm Coop Himmelb(l)au. Besides being visually stunning, this school campus was designed to be resistant to earthquakes and also boasts good energy-efficiency credentials. Opened in September 2009, the school aims for a close interplay between academia and the arts – a relationship at least one teacher maintained is highly beneficial to students.
29. North Liverpool Academy – Liverpool, England
North Liverpool Academy in England is a high school that focuses on math, business, computing and enterprise. On top of its quality academic credentials and apparently “outstanding” management, this school stands out for its architecture, particularly the striking curved structure at its center. It boasts improved natural daylight and views of the River Mersey and the far-off Welsh mountains. Atkins, the firm responsible for the design, seems to have succeeded in its goal of creating a “memorable landmark.” Completed in 2009, North Liverpool Academy includes a dozen science labs, art studios, a motorcycle-engineering center, recording studios, and a theater. According to Wikipedia, the academy ranks as the 25th school in the entire United Kingdom.
28. Innovative Pilot High School – Poitiers, France
This incredible sci-fi looking building located near Poitiers in west-central France is home to the Innovative Pilot High School. The striking triangular-shaped structure, which was completed in 1987, is part of the Futuroscope complex. The latter development is the only one of its kind in Europe, and it seeks to create what the Programme on Educational Building calls “a synergy between the activities of leisure, work, technology, training and education.” The building itself houses both a high school and a university, facilitating an uninterrupted progression from secondary to higher education. Innovative Pilot High School places a special emphasis on communication and technology.
27. Phoenix Union Bioscience High School – Phoenix, Arizona
This award-winning campus was designed by architectural firm The Orcutt Winslow Partnership and was completed in 2007 at a cost of $10 million. The Phoenix Union Bioscience High School in Phoenix, Arizona is perfectly situated in the city’s genomics research district, while its design highlights the school’s science-focused curriculum thanks to the fossils cast into the building’s concrete walls. The three-story structure also contains six science laboratories – plus another external lab – and flexible learning spaces. Upperclassmen further benefit from curricula tailored to their specific interests, from engineering and biotechnology to forensics. Still, one review by a student underscores the fact that this school is extremely demanding on the academic front and thus perhaps not an ideal fit for everyone.
26. Strawberry Crest High School – Dover, Florida
Dover, Florida is home to Strawberry Crest High School. Designed by Long & Associates Architects/Engineers and opened in August 2009, this $63.6 million facility won an AIA Tampa Bay design award in 2011. The energy-efficient design includes 101 classrooms and serves young people from the surrounding East Hillsborough County region of Florida. Students and parents who reviewed Strawberry Crest on website Greatschools.org remarked that the facility is clean, high-tech and beautiful – not to mention among the finer schools in the area.
25. Diamond Ranch High School – Los Angeles, California
Diamond Ranch High School in Los Angeles County, California was built on 72 acres of land previously deemed unusable. The site features sharply varying slopes and a total relief of 380 feet. Yet rather than displacing huge quantities of soil, architectural firm Morphosis instead chose to integrate the design with the surrounding landscape. The school is located at the meeting point of Diamond Bar and Phillips Ranch in Pomona, and it has been described as one of the most academically demanding schools in the US. One teacher at Diamond Ranch said, “I love being involved heart and soul where the community, the parents, the faculty, and the administration all work together to do everything possible to help put the students on the path to success.” The innovative campus was completed in 1999.
24. Evelyn Grace Academy – London, England
This incredible building in South London’s Brixton was designed by award-winning Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid. The design won the 2011 RIBA Stirling Prize for architecture – ahead of the London 2012 Olympic Velodrome. The academy, which opened in 2010, has been called “highly imaginative” and “exciting.” Hadid herself explained the central role that architecture plays in education, saying, “Schools are among the first examples of architecture that everyone experiences and have a profound impact on all children as they grow up.” The small campus elegantly brings four schools into one facility, and it features divisions, exuberant angles and a red racing track that threads through the center of the building.
23. Rafael Arozarena High School – Tenerife, Spain
This beautiful structure reminds us of colorful wooden building blocks. Rafael Arozarena High School near La Orotava on the Island of Tenerife in the Spanish Canary Islands was the work of locally based architectural firm AMP Arquitectos and was completed in 2004. Although the building is made of concrete, the gradient colors and textured walls make it seem like a more natural part of the surrounding landscape. Not only does its design give a nod to the terraced fields on which it was built, but it also harmonizes gracefully with the historic buildings in the surrounding area.
22. Alsop High School – Liverpool, England
Alsop High School in Walton, Liverpool, England was built in 1926 but underwent extensive remodeling in 2008. An entirely new building was added, complete with high-tech classrooms. Greenery-filled areas were fashioned, too – designed to boost health and well-being and provide students with a space in which to unwind. Architectural firm 2020 Liverpool was responsible for renovating the original building and designing the new one. Speaking for the company, architect Martin Shutt said, “We believe our team has successfully achieved the project goal; to create a welcoming, caring, successful and inclusive environment that supports the learning community in promoting and valuing the achievements of all.”
21. Ánimo Leadership Charter High School – Los Angeles, California
Award-winning architectural firm Brooks & Scarpa designed this unique-looking school in Inglewood, Los Angeles County, California. The Ánimo Leadership Charter High School is among those run by Green Dot – a local organization of schools whose graduation rates exceed those of the LA Unified School District. Originally opened in 2000, the school moved to its new campus in Inglewood after over a decade in temporary facilities. The new campus was completed in 2013 and serves approximately 500 students from the area. Design-wise, the elongated cuboid shape of the building is not only aesthetically pleasing but also saturates the interior space with natural light and ventilation. Energy efficiency is also incorporated into the design thanks to the addition of 650 solar panels, which shade the structure and provide for three quarters of the school’s energy needs.
20. Metea Valley High School – Aurora, Illinois
Opened in 2009, Metea Valley High School in Aurora, Illinois was designed by architectural firm the DLR Group at a cost of $124.7 million. The facility was created to address the issue of school overcrowding in the district, and it accommodates approximately 3,000 students. The sheer size of the center required a creative identity design to prevent students from feeling lost. It was also fashioned to promote collaboration between pupils and staff. A student who attends the school described it as “a great place to learn,” while a parent praised the new facilities and expressed appreciation for the honors and AP classes, the great staff and the opportunities for parent involvement.
19. Park Mains High School Building – Renfrewshire, Scotland
From the front, Park Mains High School Building in Erskine, Renfrewshire, Scotland looks like it combines a central cylinder with rectangular wings, creating a visually appealing space. Completed in July 2012, the high school was designed by Glasgow-based architects Holmes Miller. The interior is bathed in natural light and provides students with space for flexible learning. What’s more, it is environmentally sustainable. One of the key aspects of the school is that community members are welcome to use it. Michael Dewar, head teacher at Park Mains, said, “This impressive building has already lifted the morale of staff, the pupils love it and the community are regular users of the tremendous sports facilities now available to them.”
18. Edison High School – Fresno, California
Edison High School in Fresno, California almost seems to sprout right out of the ground. The building was designed by Darden Architects and was completed in 2013. School administration and staff as well as students, parents and community members all had a part in planning the building, which was designed to revive the school after its original classroom building had been demolished in 1972. One student said, “Edison has a fantastic learning environment, and parents who are concerned about their children’s safety have nothing to worry about… Based on academics, Edison is definitely in a league of its own.”
17. Monkseaton High School – North Tyneside, England
Monkseaton High School is located in Whitley Bay in North Tyneside, England. The school prides itself on its smaller-than-average class sizes, which encourage more student-teacher interaction. This philosophy isn’t, however, the only thing that sets Monkseaton apart; its facilities do as well. The innovative elliptical-shaped building was designed by Devereux Architects and was completed in 2009. Its 31 colorful wind catchers not only look the part, but also help keep the building at a suitable temperature. At the same time, the school’s triangle-shaped classrooms encourage a flexible use of the learning space, while solar panels provide the building with hot water. Chief architect Ian Lancastle-Smith said of the rooms, “We created a life-size model of the triangular classrooms in the existing school and test-drove it with the teachers and students and assessed their evaluations. Even the skeptics were converted.”
16. Marcel Sembat High School – Sotteville-lès-Rouen, France
From afar, the Marcel Sembat High School in Sotteville-lès-Rouen in northern France may look like a gently undulating hillside. However, hidden beneath the verdant vegetation are six spacious workshops in which students learn about vehicle mechanics and motors. These workshops were in need of refurbishment, as the original buildings were constructed between 1930 and 1960. So, in 2011 architecture firm Archi5 was responsible for renovating the workshops, as well as adding a cafeteria, staff accommodations and dormitories to the design. Not only is the result visually appealing, but the separate workshops also take advantage of natural light. Moreover, the “living roofs” blend almost seamlessly with the adjacent public park.
15. American Canyon High School – Napa County, California
Santa Rosa-based firm Quattrocchi Kwok Architects designed American Canyon High School in American Canyon, Napa County, California. Construction was completed in 2010, and since then, on top of its aesthetically pleasing appearance, this high school has stood out for its environmental sustainability. Natural light is drawn inside, which cuts down on artificial lighting costs. And elsewhere, a ground loop geothermal system reduces both heating and air conditioning needs, whilst a one-megawatt photovoltaic system further decreases energy costs by using the sun as a source of power. One student said American Canyon is “very clean and has a great working environment,” while a parent referred to it as “the high school of the future.”
14. Ørestad College – Copenhagen, Denmark
The colorful louvers on Ørestad College in Copenhagen, Denmark look a bit like the keys on a piano, and they add texture and cheer to the exterior of the building. The school was designed by 3XN Architects and boasts an inventive interior that takes a distinctive approach to the idea of an educational building. Instead of classrooms, this upper secondary institution has four boomerang-shaped decks that serve as “study zones.” This approach makes the learning spaces both adaptable and open. The structure was completed in 2007; and since moving in to its new building, the school has become very popular with applicants – perhaps proving that architecture does indeed have an impact on students’ willingness to learn.
13. Braamcamp Freire Secondary School – Lisbon, Portugal
Braamcamp Freire Secondary School is situated in Pontinha in the municipality of Odivelas in Lisbon, Portugal. The original center consisted of five prefabricated pavilions dating back to 1986. In order to unify these separate elements and revitalize the school, Lisbon-based architecture firm CVDB Arquitectos came up with a brilliant remodeling plan. To keep costs and maintenance at a minimum, concrete was used to create informal learning spaces between each of the existing units. On first impression, the bare concrete may appear rather austere, but the use of brilliant primary colors and geometric shapes adds warmth and vibrancy. The remodeling was completed in 2012.
12. High School for Construction Trades, Engineering and Architecture – New York, New York
The High School for Construction Trades, Engineering and Architecture is located in Queens, New York. As can be deduced from its rather long name, this institution focuses on preparing students for apprenticeships or technical colleges focusing on construction engineering and architecture. The center has special laboratories for mechanical drafting, computer-aided design, construction technology and model building. And the high-tech and visually intriguing structure not only offers students a great place in which to learn, but may also act as an example of the sort of design excellence students are striving towards. In fact, one student has said of the school, “It’s fun. It brings out your creative side.” International architectural firm Arquitectonica is behind the striking building, whose construction was completed in 2006.
11. Camino Nuevo Charter Academy – Los Angeles, California
Camino Nuevo Charter Academy in Los Angeles, California winds along its adjacent road like a grey and yellow freight train, broken up sporadically by the lines of windows. The distinctive building was designed by design firm Daly Genik Architects and was opened in 2004. The firm didn’t want to isolate the school from its urban surroundings altogether and chose to create a main classroom building with a courtyard in the center of the school that allows daylight to flood into the classrooms. One student who reviewed Camino Nuevo said, “This is an incomparable school.”
10. Hazelwood School – Glasgow, Scotland
Hazelwood School in Glasgow, Scotland was carefully designed to accommodate a student body with sensory impairments. The result, completed in 2007, is a vibrant and welcoming single-story building, designed by now-dissolved Glasgow-based architecture firm Gordon Murray & Alan Dunlop Architects. Firm co-founder Alan Dunlop explained how school architecture could impact students, teachers, and parents, saying, “Good school design is important for children, for it says: ‘You are our future, and we recognize that you are special.’ It’s important for teachers, for it places a value on them and helps to motivate.” This building not only pays special attention to students’ navigational needs; it also offers them the chance to explore and boost their confidence.
9. Concordia International School – Shanghai, China
Concordia International School gracefully splits the skyline in Shanghai, China. International architecture and design firm Perkins Eastman designed the center, which boasts state-of-the-art and environmentally friendly facilities. The school covers 129,200 square feet (12,760 square meters) and contains 20 classrooms, a world language lab, various instruction rooms and four science classrooms. Geothermal technology was implemented in its construction, with the aim of reducing energy costs by as much as 25 to 30 percent. Green roofs also cut down on heating and cooling costs, while natural ventilation and sunlight further add to the school’s eco-conscious design. The project was completed in 2010, following a ten-year planning, design and construction process.
8. Marysville Getchell High School – Marysville, Washington
Marysville Getchell High School is situated in Marysville, Washington. Described as a “learning community,” the complex was opened in 2010 and is made up of four smaller schools: the Bio-Med Academy, the International School of Communications, the Academy of Construction and Engineering, and the School for the Entrepreneur. Each school is housed in its own building, but they all center on a shared courtyard. The design was envisaged with an eye to the guiding principles of the schools’ programs, such as relationships, accountability and community. The Seattle wing of international architectural firm the DLR Group designed the school, which features several energy efficiency measures – for example, the structure uses windows and shading instead of a mechanical system to provide cooling. Each building also offers flexible teaching and learning thanks to movable walls and furniture on wheels.
7. Park View School – Birmingham, England
This unique school is located in Birmingham in England’s West Midlands. The Park View High School’s open corridors – complete with vertical wood slats – provide a visually interesting contrast to its previous incarnation as, in the words of one journalist, “a labyrinth of brick and concrete.” Architectural firm Haworth Tompkins extensively revitalized the aging and poorly maintained complex in 2012. Director of Haworth Tompkins, Graham Haworth, said the original conglomeration of buildings had problems – such as overfull corridors and little daylight – that are typical of many UK schools. However, Haworth said that “by working with the existing building stock, ‘de-silting’ it, introducing creative additions, and making simple but thoughtful improvements to the whole, a first-class learning environment can be created.”
6. Pacific Ridge High School – San Diego, California
Pacific Ridge High School is located in Carlsbad in North San Diego County, California. Its new high school building was designed in collaboration with architectural practice Carrier Johnson + Culture and was opened in 2010. Both the high school building and the groundbreaking athletic center meet LEED Gold standards, and the site boasts renewable energy technology, abundant natural lighting and reduced water usage. Pacific Ridge High is known for its rigorous scholarship and seminar-style learning methods. One parent said, “I find that it really excels in academics – without compromising the service. The teachers are incredible – they give countless hours of their own time to help students and run events, are always available to talk to about anything and are some of the most motivated and inspirational people I have ever met.”
5. Fitzroy High School – Melbourne, Australia
Fitzroy High School in Melbourne, Australia is an exuberant landmark for the surrounding community. Architectural firm McBride Charles Ryan chose the eye-catching brickwork after seeing similar patterns on nearby houses. Sections of the interior can be partitioned off with high curtains, while the flat, accessible roof looks perfect for outdoor learning. Special attention has also been paid to ventilation and natural lighting. And the school contains science labs, a drama studio, a kitchen garden and a sporting complex. The new building was completed in 2009, and in 2010 it won a Dulux Colour Award as well as the annual Australian Institute of Architecture Victorian Chapter Award.
4. Emidio Navarro Secondary School – Almada, Portugal
The original Emidio Navarro Secondary School in Almada, Portugal was built in the 1950s as a technical school, before later being transformed into a high school. Thanks to funds provided by a modernization program, architect José Laranjeira was able to remodel the school between 2008 and 2010. Much of the original structure was maintained and respected, but improvements were also made to the existing facility. A new building now features laboratories and computation technical rooms, as well as mechanical, electronic and electric workshops, and the upper floor of the building contains an auditorium and teachers’ offices. The outside areas also went through quite an extensive remodeling process to include recreational and sports facilities.
3. Nigel Peck Centre (Melbourne Grammar School) – Melbourne, Australia
The Nigel Peck Centre for Learning and Leadership is part of boarding and day school Melbourne Grammar in Australia. The center was designed by John Wardle Architects and features a number of interconnected pavilions. The mostly glazed facade allows community members to look inside but also students to look out. This quality was intended to create “an outward-focused learning environment.” Affording students such spacious views of the surrounding area may encourage them to mentally connect their learning to the world outside, especially the city and its history. As the Melbourne Grammar School website puts it, the school “is designed to help students become self-reliant, capable young adults.”
2. Bertha von Suttner School – Vienna, Austria
Bertha von Suttner School is an elementary and lower secondary educational facility for students between the ages of six and 18 that have disabilities, behavioral problems and psychological disorders. The school is located in the town of Schwechat, in southeast Vienna, and its glass building is bright and welcoming. Students enjoy activities such as painting, cooking, handicrafts, physical therapy, gardening and working with computers. Additional features include a special room where children can relax on a waterbed and enjoy soothing fiber optic lighting. Elsewhere, sliding panels in the roof control the amount of sunlight that enters the building, and the sloping roof cuts out exterior noise and insulates the interior against the cold. The Bertha von Suttner School was designed by Vienna-based architectural firm fasch&fuchs and was completed in 2006.
1. Inderkum High School – Sacramento, California
Inderkum High School in Sacramento, California was designed by locally based firm Nacht & Lewis Architects for the Natomas Unified School District and was completed in 2004. The building is highly energy-efficient and uses electricity-generating photovoltaic panels, a geothermal ground loop system, low-velocity cooling displacement and radiant slab heating. Four academic pods extend from the central glass atrium, housing laboratories for physics, biology, chemistry, biotechnology and earth science. The building itself has been called “beautiful,” and one parent said that the “facilities are top notch and so are the faculty and students.”