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Why Finland Is Embracing Open-Plan School Design

The country’s educational successes are undeniable, but simply demolishing school walls alone won’t necessarily replicate them.
Communal space at the Saunalahti School, Espoo, completed to a design by Verstas Architects in 2012.
Communal space at the Saunalahti School, Espoo, completed to a design by Verstas Architects in 2012.Andreas Meichsner

Children in Finland may have difficulty recognizing their schools upon their return from summer vacation.

The country is currently undergoing one of the most ambitious school redesign projects in Europe, exchanging traditional walled-in classrooms and rows of desks for more flexible and informal open-plan layouts. Finland is currently going through a wave of school construction and refurbishment, following a new national curriculum introduced last autumn. Out of a total of 4,800 schools nationally (a small-sounding number because most teach students from age 7 to at least 16 in one institution), 57 new schools began construction in 2015 and 44 the following year. All of these new schools—as well as recently refurbished ones—incorporate open-plan principles. This still leaves most schools with more traditional layouts, but the overall ambition is to steadily replace or adapt these as their facilities come up for renovation.