Schulbau Open Source changes the way schools are built in Germany

Montag Stiftung brings together experience and best practice in school construction to inspire municipalities to create schools able to support the education of the future. The first pilot project has just been completed in Weimar. 


Read the article on the pilot project and Schulbau Open Source

Weimar is known for being the place where the first democratic constitution was signed after World War 1, and the home of the influential Bauhaus school, which came to influence architecture for many years to come. More than 100 years later, the city in the state of Thuringia is once again at the centre of a new breakthrough.

This is where a very special school project started – a pilot project to inspire and change the way schools are built in Germany (and where Troldtekt plays a role – more below).

But let's come back to that, because first we need to explain how school construction and renovations are organised in Germany.


A nation with multiple approaches to school construction

How are schools built in Germany? It may sound like a simple question, but it is anything but simple to answer. Depending on one's disposition, there are either 16 or 11,000 different ways to tackle the subject. It can be 16 because education policy is the responsibility of Germany's 16 federal states, or it can be 11,000 because school construction is a municipal task – and there are approximately 11,000 municipalities in Germany.

School construction and school buildings belong to the municipalities and local government, creating a very complex system in a country the size of Germany. Some federal states still have financial control over school buildings and provide some form of subsidy to build schools. But in other states, such as North Rhine-Westphalia, no state management of school buildings is involved.

Although the federal state cultural ministers coordinate education policy in a national conference, there is no other national coordination of the school sector.


Schulbau Open Source

And that's why the independent non-profit foundation, Montag Stiftung Jugend und Gesellsschaft, has been working for the past 15 years to gather experience from school construction across Germany, to identify typical planning themes. The knowledge gathered is made available to all stakeholders through the Schulbau Open Source initiative. 

"The need to identify the exemplary school building has not diminished due to the development of society just in the last 20 years. Within the school sector, there have been major changes in views on education and the entire discussion about what children and young people should learn in the future. But the way many schools were designed was developed 100 years ago with corridors and classrooms in rows", explains Barbara Pampe. The work of Montag Stiftung Jugend und Gesellschaft aims to ensure that school buildings and renovation projects support modern learning and pedagogy.

That calls for a new approach, where the planning of schools is based on collaboration between architects and educators to a greater extent. Answers to questions such as: “what's the activity in this room?”, “what kind of space do we need between tables”, “where should the light come from”, and “where should the doors be” need to be answered to achieve the widest support of educational objectives.

But the existing rules for school construction don't always support such an approach, which is why Schulbau Open Source has also been about alternative approaches to school planning. 


Best practice in one place

Of course, Montag Stiftung Jugend und Gesellschaft cannot dictate how German municipalities or federal states should plan and implement their school construction and renovation projects. The foundation can only inspire and compile a catalogue of best practices and experiences from other successful school construction projects.

One of the early take-aways of the project was that if we are to succeed in fundamentally changing the way schools are built, it needs to occur before the planning phase. That's why Schulbau Open Source focuses on describing what's known as “phase 0” - i.e. the earliest stage when all relevant stakeholders can be involved.

The new guidelines also had to take into account that administrative staff are responsible for school construction in many municipalities. In practice, this means that the developer often has no particular knowledge of pedagogical or learning perspectives. That's why Schulbau Open Source’s experience points to the need to ensure that users are involved early in the school construction process.   

With input from architects, educators, teachers and psychologists, the best experiences have been gathered on the site, where municipalities and architects can find inspiration on everything: building acoustics, ventilation and fire safety for outdoor areas and school kitchens.

Pilot project in Weimar

In addition to sharing experience of exemplary school construction digitally, the principles have now also been tested in real life. When a new school was to be built in Hartwege in Weimar to replace the old Plattenbau style school, it was an obvious opportunity to test the principles in a pilot project.

The process began with “phase 0”, where school management, teachers, pupils, parents, school administration, building management and urban planners discussed and developed concepts for the future school building. Workshops and field trips were organised to provide an understanding of educational and architectural concepts and possibilities.

The work resulted in the final project proposal with construction starting in September 2021. The building is expected to be completed in autumn 2024, and the project has a budget of approximately EUR 29.8 million, with financing from various sources, including state funds.


Learning ceilings and workshop design

The new school building is characterised by innovative “learning ceilings”: open floors that can be programmed based on school and teaching needs, offering flexible learning and teaching spaces for students and staff.

The school was designed based on the philosophy that the most important room is that where students learn and where they and teachers spend most time. Consequently stairs to each floor were placed on the outside of the building. "This saves costs and reduces the climate and environmental footprint, because the school can reduce heating costs by having the stairs outside", explains Barbara Pampe.

Space was also saved elsewhere. For example, by turning the traditionally large school kitchens into several smaller kitchens located close to classrooms. The entire building is based on the Jenaplan educational concept, which focuses on promoting individual development and social learning in a community. Jenaplan schools are characterised by mixed age groups (in the so-called Stammgruppen), where pupils of different ages learn and work together, supporting each other and sharing responsibility. Classes are structured around core activities such as conversation, games, work and celebration, with an emphasis on hands-on, experiential and collaborative learning, rather than traditional blackboard teaching.

In general, the school is decorated with inspiration from workshops or factory buildings, reminiscent of a workshop with regard to the school’s floors. The aim was to achieve a very raw structure and environment that can be adapted to requirements.

The Spartan approach to the interior design of the school is also evident when it comes to acoustics, for example. Troldtekt acoustic panels have been installed on all the ceilings with the technical installations visible and without any screening – familiar to us from an underground car park.

FACTS: About Schulbau Open Source

  • Schulbau Open Source (SOS) is an initiative started by the Montag Stiftung Jugend und Gesellschaft foundation.
  • SOS collects and organises planning and process knowledge from real school construction projects, enabling municipalities, planners, architects and other stakeholders to be inspired and use this knowledge to improve school construction practices.
  • The goal of SOS is to work towards harmonising building regulations, safety standards and technical recommendations with the needs of modern education, so that the development of German schools supports modern, high-quality education.
  • On SOS’ website, you can find detailed plans, isometric drawings, documentation of relevant decisions and planning materials from all professional planning and performance phases of the pilot projects.
  • In addition to the pilot project in Weimar, SOS is planning further projects, such as in Kassel and Frankfurt-Sachsenhausen. Here, too, the focus is on creating open learning landscapes, often in historically important buildings.