The Most Beautiful and Imaginative Public Schools in the World


Albert Einstein, responsible for the world’s most famous equation and quite possibly the smartest man to ever live, said that “logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” With that in mind, surely a child’s imagination is something to cherish and nourish. Enter the public school system. For years public education has been known for its never-ending, claustrophobic hallways and rows of greige lockers, made famous by all of our favorite teen dramas from The Wonder Years to My So-Called Life.

Architects and local governments around the world are now fighting the good fight against dismal, uninspiring schools and the groundbreaking results are re-shaping the learning experience for our future generations. From a colorful kindergarten in Slovenia made out of toy planks that lets kids play with and manipulate their environment to a high school breeding a new generation of environmentalists, click through to check out the future of a free education. Let us know about any remarkable projects we’ve missed, or nominate your school in the comments below!

Kindergarten Kekec by Arhitektura Jure Kotnik — Ljubljana, Slovenia

Image credit: Miran Kambič via House Variety

An extension of a typical Slovenian prefab kindergarten from the ’80s, the colorful, interactive design is a response to the school’s lack of play equipment. The addition’s three exterior walls are made of “toy slats”: natural wooden planks that the kids can play with to “get to know different colors, experience wood as a natural material and constantly change the appearance of their kindergarten, all at the same time.”

Bailly School Complex by Mikou Design Studio — Saint-Denis, France

Image credit: Florian Kleinfenn via german-architects

A catalyst for the development of an up-and-coming community, the bold learning complex houses a pre-school, an elementary school, and a rec center. Circulation is through a series of interior courtyards, allowing children to get fresh air between classes and to have a pleasant — albeit brief — experience of the outdoors during an otherwise enclosed school day.

Crèche Rue Pierre Budin by ECDM — Paris, France

Image credit: Luc Boegly via dezeen

Built around an expansive courtyard, this whimsical day-nursery sits in an eclectic Parisian neighborhood next to an intrusive 12-story building. Keeping the size of its Lilliputian inhabitants in mind, the scale of the project is intentionally small, and the design focuses on protection, both from the encroaching building next door and the city in general. The French architects described this elegant, cheerful school by stating that “the goal is to propose for this tiny program a frame of living that generates as much an emotion with the future occupants (children, parents, staff) than the local residents.” A win-win situation for the kids and the community.

Galjoen School by Rocha Tombal — The Hague, The Netherlands

Image credit: Christian Richters via dezeen

This red brick primary school is intended to wind around the site like a giant, motherly crocodile. Tapping into ideas about security and adventure, the designers explain that “with its friendly face and an attractive identity, this ‘colorful animal’ will improve the atmosphere of the square.” Playing off of a pre-existing industrial power station, the two buildings form a protected outdoor play space complete with a garden.

Timayui Kindergarten by Giancarlo Mazzanti — Santa Marta, Colombia

Image credit: HIC*

The Timayui preschool is made up of flexible modules surrounding a courtyard like the petals of a flower, creating playgrounds, outdoor classrooms, gardens, and orchards. Not only does the school provide a healthy, inspiring environment for the children, but it also strives to ameliorate the surrounding impoverished community. Hoping to lead by example, the innovative, open-source project was designed to be easily replicated.

Leimondo Nursery School by Archivision Hirotani Studio — Nagahama, Japan

Image credit: Architizer

The focal point of this Japanese nursery school is what the architects are calling a House of Light, conical light-wells “of different shapes, different colors and facing different directions, changing with the time and the seasons.” The kids are invited to notice the change in light during the year and to play and chase the lights as they move across the walls of the room. Poetic and brilliant.

The Josephine Baker Schools by Dominique Coulon & Associés — La Courneuve, France

Image credit: Eugeni Pons via Yatzer; Olivier Nicollas via Yatzer

Dominique Coulon & Associés have given a lot of thought to the needs of a child, and the difference between children and adults. According to Coulon, “it isn’t just another school which has been designed as an area for adults in a micro scale serving children.” The designers really wanted to emphasize the relationship between a child’s small frame and the space.

Antas Education Centre by AVA Architects — Porto, Portugal

Image credit: José Campos via Arthitectural

The striking simplicity of this project stands out and reminds us of a quote by the great American columnist Billy Vaughn, famous for his folksy aphorisms: “A three-year-old child is a being who gets almost as much fun out of a 56-dollar set of swings as it does out of finding a small green worm.” Surely a child would find great pleasure and inspiration in this blank green canvas of a space.

Sarreguemines Nursery by Michel Grasso and Paul Le Quernec — Sarreguemines, France

Image credit: Michel Grasso + Paul Le Quernec via archdaily

We have to give this project points for commendable creativity. Designed as a body cell, the nursery sits at the center as the “nucleus.” Cytoplasm is represented by the surrounding gardens, and the exterior wall is akin to the membrane. The pre-K kids might be too young to fully appreciate the reference, but if a little cellular biology seeps in by osmosis, then we give the architects a giant gold star.

Rafael Arozarena High School by AMP Arquitectos — La Orotava, Spain

Image credit: AMP Arquitectos via World Architecture News

Way to teach the young ones about the importance of context! Integrating the pre-existing walls of the farming terraces, this bold and beautiful high school blends seamlessly with the agrarian landscape, but still maintains a decidedly modern design.

Ørestad Gymnasium by 3XN Architects — Copenhagen, Denmark

Image credit: archisdesign; Adam Mørk via Danish Architecture Centre

This Danish equivalent of a high school is definitely where we most wish we’d spent our formative teen years. The progressive, media-oriented design was inspired by a philosophy that favors “open study environments” instead of traditional classrooms. Sprawling on a giant beanbag in a floating circular loft space while debating the future of Square in the world of retail? Yes, please.

Marcel Sembat High School by archi5 with B. Huidobro — Sotteville lès Rouen, France

Image credit: Thomas Jorion via archdaily

If there’s a way to help the chronically disinterested and unaware youth of the world think twice about issues of sustainability, surely this is the way. Waking up every day to attend school in one of the most beautiful green-roofed structures in the world should be every child’s right.

Diamond Ranch High School by Morphosis — Pomona, California

Image credit: Carol High Smith

We can’t help but wonder how many industrial designers or metalsmiths this school has inspired.

Central Los Angeles Area High School #9 for the Visual and Performing Arts by Coop Himmelblau — Los Angeles, California

Image credit: e-architect; World Architecture News

Located just off the Hollywood freeway, this public arts school in the heart of downtown Los Angeles is known for — according to the Los Angeles Times — its stunning cone-shaped library, a soaring lobby opening onto Grand Avenue, a 140-foot tower rising above a 950-seat theater, and giant, circular windows. Granted, all this grandeur comes with a hefty price tag that’s spawned an ongoing debate over a campus that “flaunts a district’s-worth of design at one site.”

Sra Pou Vocational School by Rudanko + Kankkunen — Sra Pou, Cambodia

Image credit: Architects Rudanko + Kankkunen via nuuun design review

Perhaps not as grand as some of the other designs we’ve featured, this rural Cambodian school’s brilliance lies in the thought and careful consideration of the non-Western culture. Designed by Finnish architecture firm Rudanko + Kankkunen and built by members of the local community from hand-dried blocks of soil, the training center teaches local, underprivileged families to earn their own living in a colorful, inspiring space unlike any in the impoverished region.

Chromatic Play by Juana Canet Arquitectos — Mallorca, Spain

Image credit: Jose Hevia via archdaily

This green, yellow, and blue multi-purpose play space was added to an existing school. As much art as it is architecture, the outdoor room is magically “dyed by the chromatic play of the coloured glassed façade.”

School Barvaux-Condroz by LR Architects — Barvaux-Condroz, Belgium

Image credit: M. van Coile via archdaily

The antithesis of greige, this cheerful school with built-in play spaces and hiding dens is sure to motivate even the most sullen of children.

Maria Grazia Cutuli Primary School by 2A+P/A + IaN+ + MaO — Herat, Afghanistan

Image credit: IaN+

This project was realized by the Maria Grazia Cutuli Foundation, established to honor the life of Maria Grazia Cutuli, a prominent Italian journalist killed on assignment in Afghanistan. The vibrant school “is an alternative to those models related to the after-war reconstruction emergencies.” It includes a progressive “green classroom” and made use of local technologies and construction materials.

Les Vinyes Primary and Secondary School by MMDM Arquitectes S.C.P. — Barcelona, Spain

Image credit: Eugeni Pons

Inspiring aspiring Stanley Kubricks in Barcelona.

Kindergarten by Eva Samuel Architect Urbanist & Associates — Paris, France

Image credit: Gaston Bergeret via archdaily

One big, pink-frosted building full of magical, child-sized playhouses.