Renovating Schools for the Future

Schools for a Growing Population and Hybrid Learning Needs

As Europe and the world modernize their educational infrastructure, they face the dual challenge of accommodating expanding student populations and integrating the evolving demands of online and hybrid education. Insights from Gensler's 2023 Education Engagement Index, which surveyed nearly 3,000 students, educators, and staff at U.S.-based colleges and universities, offer valuable guidance on addressing these challenges effectively.

Expanding Populations and the Need for Renovation

European educational institutions are experiencing significant growth in student numbers. According to Eurostat, the number of students enrolled in tertiary education in the EU increased by 15% between 2010 and 2020. This surge necessitates more classrooms, lecture halls, and other educational facilities. However, it's not just about adding more space; it's about redesigning existing spaces to support modern learning methodologies.

The Shift Towards Hybrid Learning

The pandemic has accelerated the shift towards hybrid learning, blending online and in-person education. According to a 2022 survey by the European Commission, 76% of higher education institutions in the EU offered some form of blended learning. This trend will likely remain the same, with 81% of institutions planning to retain hybrid models post-pandemic.

Key Findings from Gensler's Education Engagement Index

1. Increased Preference for Campus Presence

Despite the rise of online learning, there is still a strong desire for on-campus experiences. The Gensler survey found that while 45% of students prefer fully on-campus learning, the majority favor a hybrid approach. This underscores the need for educational spaces supporting physical and virtual learning environments.

2. Discipline-Specific Preferences

Hybrid learning preferences vary significantly by field of study. For instance, science, health professions, and arts students require access to specialized facilities like labs and studios. Conversely, computer science and business disciplines can more easily adapt to online and hybrid formats. This means renovations should consider the specific needs of different academic programs.

3. Alignment of Student and Educator Preferences

Both students and educators prefer a balanced hybrid schedule, indicating that renovated spaces should support various teaching modalities. Approximately half of their classes should be on campus, a quarter virtual, and a third hybrid. This balance requires flexible, multi-purpose spaces that adapt quickly to different teaching formats.

Addressing the Challenges of Hybrid Learning

Improving Technology and Connectivity

Effective hybrid learning depends on reliable technology and internet access. European Commission data shows that only 44% of EU households have very high-capacity network (VHCN) connections, highlighting a need for better infrastructure. Upgrading schools with robust IT infrastructure is critical to supporting hybrid learning.

Flexible Learning Spaces

Students want the ability to learn from various locations, including traditional classrooms, study spaces, and social areas. Renovating schools to include flexible, technology-enabled spaces can enhance the learning experience. According to Gensler, accommodating virtual learning in spaces traditionally used for quiet study or social activities can meet this need.

Benefits of a Multimodal Approach

Adopting a multimodal approach that includes in-person, hybrid, and virtual learning can offer numerous benefits:

  • Inclusivity: Supports students with different abilities, language needs, and communication styles.
  • Flexibility: Benefits those with tight schedules or geographic constraints.
  • Efficiency: Optimizes the use of campus real estate by reducing demand on physical spaces.

Embracing Cultural Diversity through Materiality and Texture

Materiality and texture play crucial roles in designing school façades. They reference diverse cultures and create a sense of belonging for the local community. Moving away from traditional expanses of glass or brick buildings, a school's façade can serve as a canvas reflecting the rich cultural tapestry of its student body. Most academic buildings have historically adopted architectural styles rooted in European traditions, characterized by classical planning, proportion, and aesthetics. However, as we engaged with students from diverse backgrounds, it became clear that many need to identify with this historical narrative. They preferred buildings that reflect a broader range of cultural influences. In dismantling Eurocentric design ideas, schools can create façades that reflect the cultural diversity of their student bodies. By incorporating local cultural references and offering personalized spaces, educational institutions can promote a sense of belonging and inclusivity, ultimately enhancing the student experience.

Drawing Lines

As Europe and the world renovate its educational infrastructure to accommodate growing populations and the shift towards hybrid learning, insights from the Gensler Education Engagement Index provide a roadmap for creating compelling and engaging learning environments. By addressing the challenges and leveraging the benefits of hybrid education, we can ensure that educational spaces are equipped to meet the diverse needs of modern students and educators.


  1. Gensler Research Institute. (2023). "Education Engagement Index." Gensler.
  2. Eurostat. (2021). "Tertiary Education Statistics." Eurostat.
  3. European Commission. (2022). "Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027)." European Commission.
  4. European Commission. (2021). "Connectivity in the Digital Decade: Europe's Vision for 2030." European Commission.
  5. National Center for Education Statistics. (2020). "Public School Review." NCES
  6. Association for Psychological Science. (2019). "The Impact of School Environment on Student Engagement." APPS

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