The Timber Revolution: 8 Elementary Schools Embracing Wood-Based Designs

From carbon cuts to cozy classrooms, the timber takeover in elementary schools is here to stay — discover eight global inspirations leading the way.

Kalina Prelikj Kalina Prelikj

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The timber revolution is taking the architectural world by storm, and it’s not just a passing fad. This renewable resource is becoming a staple in elementary school design worldwide, and with good reason. From reducing carbon footprints to providing a warm and inviting atmosphere, wood is changing the game of school design. In this article, we’ll explore eight elementary schools from different corners of the globe leading the way with their innovative use of wood. So get ready to be inspired by the warmth, natural beauty and sustainable potential of this versatile building material.

Jean Louis Étienne School

By archi5, Coupvray, France

Jury & Popular Choice Winner, 10th Annual A+Awards, Primary & High Schools

A shot of the courtyard facing the building's inner facade, showcasing its stunning wooden cladding.

A close up shot of the school's interior, showing wooden cladding and window frames.

Photos by Sergio Grazia

The Jean Louis Étienne School is a stunning example of architecture that effortlessly blends into its natural surroundings. With a mix of urban-style façade and larch wood cladding, the school building creates a warm and playful environment for students. The interiors are bright and airy, flooded with natural light and stunning views of the garden and surrounding landscape. But it’s not just about looks — the school also boasts a BEPOS Effinergie 2017 certification, meaning it’s a positive energy building with low energy consumption.

KB Primary and Secondary School

By HIBINOSEKKEI+Youji no Shiro, Sasebo, Japan

Popular Choice Winner, 8th Annual A+Awards, Primary & High Schools

A shot from the dining hall of KB Primary and Secondary School, highlighting its magnificent wooden floors, furniture, and cladding, all adorned in warm hues of natural wood. A photo showcasing a classroom, featuring wooden floors, furniture and cladding, as well as circular wooden lighting fixtures on the ceiling.At KB Primary and Secondary School in Japan, learning is not just about sitting still and listening to lectures. In fact, innovative furniture design and sustainable construction practices encourage active and experiential learning. The school’s interiors have been transformed to align with modern teaching approaches, creating spaces where students can engage in flexible layouts and active discussions with their peers. Plus, the mass timber elements and exposed plywood waffle ceiling make the school feel like a tranquil forest retreat. This project proves that sustainability and design can go hand in hand to create a better learning environment.

City Kids Education Center

By Barker Associates Architecture Office, Brooklyn, Kings County, NY, United States

Jury Winner, Architecture +Learning; Jury Winner, Educational Interiors, 10th Annual A+Awards

Children utilizing the convenient wooden built-in lockers in the two-story locker space, accentuated by a vibrant blue ceiling and unique lighting fixtures that create a playful and functional space.

Children studying in a simplistic and modern classroom-like space, featuring wooden platforms as part of the furniture.This adaptive reuse project transformed a former lumber warehouse into six preschool classrooms, which open onto a central double-height courtyard gathering space. The courtyard features a thickened wall that incorporates the reception desk and storage cubbies. Meanwhile, windows of varying shapes and sizes in the interior façade allow borrowed light to enter the surrounding spaces on both levels. Featuring neutral tones, intricate details and a dynamic, graphical aesthetic, the interior creates an animated atmosphere, making it an enjoyable space for students.

School Complex with Gymnasium

By marjan hessamfar & joe verons architectes associes, Saint-Cyr-sur-Loire, France

A view towards the inner courtyard, highlighting the stunning wooden ceiling adorned with beams, creating a rustic and warm atmosphere.

Photo by Jean-François Tremege

Frontal view of the school's gate, showing a glimpse of the wooden ceiling elements and the lush greenery that surrounds it, creating a welcoming and serene entrance.

Photo by Jean-François Tremege

Combining architecture and landscape, the Parc de Montjoie project in Saint-Cyr-sur-Loirewith provides a sense of visual continuity between the school building and the park surrounding it. The combination of wood, concrete and metal in the construction gives the building a warm feel, while the metal and glass façades allow for an elegant structure with a high degree of transparency. With over 16, 500 cubic feet of wood used, the entire roof structure was built in a factory using an optimized, automated method to ensure sustainability. The U-shaped layout creates a centrality that gradually reveals the heart of the building—a courtyard with two playgrounds facing the park, providing easy connections and optimized circulation.

Waldorf School Casa de las Estrellas

By Salagnac Arquitectos, Nosara, Costa Rica

An exterior shot of Waldorf School Casa de las Estrellas, showcasing its beautiful wooden facade, which highlights the school's natural and harmonious ethos.

With its curvy walls, earthy tones and open spaces, the Casa de las Estrellas building is a true reflection of the school’s pedagogical principles. To preserve the environment, the architects adapted the building to the site’s natural topography. A snail spiral for preschool classrooms and six primary classrooms with a modular layout are both included in the design. The main structure is built primarily from plantation wood treated with natural oil, while the roof structure is separated from the sky as a floating roof to maintain cool interior spaces. Overall, the Casa de las Estrellas is a sustainable, inspiring and harmonious “home” in the forest where children can learn, run and play.

Nordøstamager School

By Christensen & Co Architects, Copenhagen, Denmark

Aphoto-realistic render of the school's exterior, showcasing its playful facade with wooden cladding. Collage of Nordøst Amager School's gym in use, featuring a harmonious blend of wooden elements and furniture, accentuated by natural light that floods the space.The Nordøst Amager School project is a beautiful and sustainable concept design that combines learning and community architecture. The use of wood in the construction not only creates a warm and inviting atmosphere but also reduces the carbon footprint of the building. The leisure zone, with its large interconnected spaces, functions as a driver for creating an active local community. The garden floating above the city offers a peaceful space for both children and adults, while the inner atrium with skylights and a unifying staircase creates a safe learning environment for the youngest pupils. This project addresses several Sustainable Development Goals, making it a perfect example of how architecture can be used to promote sustainability and community building.

Yamatsuri Elementary School

By MIKAMI Architects, Yamatsuri, Japan

A two-storey common area of the school, seamlessly blending the natural warmth of wooden ceilings and floors with the sleek and modern aesthetic of concrete walls. A stunning view of the gym, featuring a perfect blend of concrete and wood, with a beautiful wooden brass roof structure.The Yamatsuri Town project is a stunning example of how wood can be used to create remarkable architecture. By integrating five elementary schools into one space, the project represents a major step in child-rearing support measures promoted by the town. Both the school and gymnasium buildings span two stories and are a beautiful blend of tradition and innovation, with unique wooden designs that are as sustainable as they are impressive. The school building itself features a one-of-a-kind wooden structure that cleverly integrates several functional spaces on the first floor, including a multipurpose hall, home economics room, music room and conference room. This layout creates an inviting communal space that’s open to the entire town, making it a true hub of activity and learning.

School Complex in Rillieux-la-Pape

By Tectoniques Architects, Lyon, France

An exterior view of the school blending into the surrounding greenery and topography. An interior shot of the warm and inviting wooden entrance of the school, featuring wooden cladding and ceiling, which is further accentuated by innovative circular skylightsLast, but not least is the Paul Chevallier school complex in Lyon — a large, uniquely designed project consisting of a nursery school, an elementary school and a gym. It boasts a distinctive design integrated with its surroundings, occasionally allowing nature to take over. Timber is a prominent feature, with wood panels used for walls, façades and floors. Left exposed, these elements provide solidity and depth to the walls and partitions. Additionally, the roof is made of KLH® panels and the upper story has cavity floors with prefabricated laminates and soft coverings. This construction approach allows for a more efficient and sustainable building process, as well as providing a comfortable and high-quality indoor environment for the students and staff.

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Kalina Prelikj Author: Kalina Prelikj
A jack of all trades and a soon-to-be Master of Architecture, Kalina enjoys embracing her creative side and has dabbled in everything from marketing to design to communications. However, her main interest lies in architecture, as she loves to explore how it shapes our communities and transforms our daily experiences. With a deep appreciation for the art of puns, Kalina is constantly on the lookout for opportunities to craft clever wordplay.
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