Five joyful elementary schools from around the world

By Ingrid Fetell Lee

Little Hall

When you stop to think about it, isn’t it amazing that schools often feature some of the worst architecture? We invest millions in building fancy skylit shopping malls, yet shuttle kids off to learn in grey-beige boxes under fluorescent lights.

Fortunately, there are some brilliant models for schools popping up around the world, especially in the elementary school space. I’ve been collecting these examples for awhile. Seeing them together inspires me to think maybe there’s an opportunity for a sea change in educational architecture. Also, it’s really stinking cute 😉

Little Hall2

Little Hall3

Little Hall, Prestwood Infant School
Buckinghamshire, UK

Designed by UK studios De Rosee Sa and PMR, this school dining hall was inspired by Roald Dahl’s story “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” The colorful battens are used to bring vibrancy to the playground, while the different-sized windows reference the little underground village from the story, “with streets and houses on each side – separate houses for badgers and moles and rabbits and weasels and foxes.”

Images: Jack Hobhouse; for more





AN Kindergarten
Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan

This kindergarten is an update on a building designed 42 years ago by Hibino Sekkei and Youji no Shiro. In addition to renovating the building for safety, the designers added little house-shaped nooks throughout the space to promote exploration, play, and physical activity. The climbing wall is a nice touch too.

Images: Studio Bauhaus, Kenjiro Yoshimi and Ryuji Inoue; for more





Flower Kindergarten
Seoul, Korea

This swoon-worthy school, designed by OA Lab, is anchored around a clever staircase that has a slide alongside it, and creates play areas above and below. The facade uses windows in four different sizes with colors matched to the classrooms to enable children to identify their own classroom from the street. Classrooms feature curved walls which create a gentler feel to the space.

Images: Kyungsub Shin; for more




Kindergarten Kekec
Ljubljana, Slovenia

Arhitektura Jure Kotnik designed this extension to an existing prefab kindergarten. The panels are painted bright colors on one side and plain wood on the other, and aim to address the lack of play equipment at the school, creating a built in play element. It was built and assembled in only three days.

Images: Miran Kambič; for more

DPS Kindergarten2

DPS Kindergarten1

DPS Kindergarten4

DPS Kindergarten3

DPS Kindergarten
Bangalore, India

Designed by Khosla Associates, this colorful kindergarten is a prototype for Delhi Public School which will be rolled out across Southern India. The porous screens, made of perforated brick, enable cross-ventilation and soften the barrier between inside and outside.

Images: Shamanth Patil J.; for more

All schools via Dezeen, which has a wonderful repository of beautiful schools to check out.

May 9th, 2016


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    Discussion (2 Comments)

  1. Gary Ellis on June 6, 2022

    Hi Ingrid:

    I’ve just come across your TED talk and want to bring joy to my cluttered, bland colored condo and to my antiseptic school computer lab where I teach middle school kids. In my mind’s eye I imagine bold colors, shapes, curves, & maybe things to make the kids ponder…but I have never been able to do to my home what I’d like, so I don’t want to waste time thinking I’d do a good job with my classroom.

    I crave order/tidiness, but can’t remember to keep it; and I crave a joyful, motivating learning environment, but haven’t come up with anything that can last a year or more.

    Is it possible to hire you for an hour or two or…

    Thank you very much.


    1. Ingrid Fetell Lee on June 7, 2022

      Hi Gary, thanks for your note! I would love to help but I don’t currently do private sessions. I do however have a course – Design a Joyful Home. It’s currently closed but I hope you’ll join the waitlist for when it reopens! You can find more info here: https://aestheticsofjoy.com/joyfulhome


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