A conversation on architecture and pedagogy with the director of the Giovanni Agnelli Foundation

July 23 2020

As part of the Triennale Summer program "Una scuola grande come il mondo" dedicated to the relationship between the Museum and the post-Covid-19 School, we meet the director of the Giovanni Agnelli Foundation in relation to the recent publication from the foundation on the subject of School Building (Report on School Building, Bari, Laterza, 2020).

“Today we are in the midst of an emergency that first impacts learning spaces. We know that in view of September schools will have to do a series of interventions to allow all students to enter the classrooms safely, what in technical terms we call "light construction". Then there is a theme that we addressed in the Report published before the Covid-19 emergency, which is a general vision of the heritage of Italian school buildings. A heritage that has many merits, but which has a problem: from the 1980s to the present day, with very few exceptions, school buildings and learning spaces have not been taken into account.”

“With the Report and with the two interventions of 'Torino fa scuola', made in two school buildings in the city, we wanted to reflect on how the learning space must be modified in the light of a new way of teaching. Our heritage has three major problems: safety (the average age of buildings is 52 years, up to 75 in regions like Liguria where buildings are older), environmental sustainability (for example, only 11% of our schools have external insulation systems that avoid energy dispersion) and spatial models (our schools are designed for a teaching model linked to frontal lessons). We need to think about the experiments of more experiential and participatory schools, for example the ‘school without a backpack’.”

Andrea Gavosto

Torino fa scuola, Simone Bossi

“Can a non-communicable teaching method be done in Italy?” Paola Nicolin

“You can and you will. Especially in kindergartens this already happens. There are, however, issues related to the distribution of space designed for a diffused lesson but also for group work, at times when the whole school gathers. Today our schools are very far from these modes and these spaces often constrain teaching. It is no coincidence that children in kindergarten and elementary schools have particularly suffered from online lessons, because their mode of teaching is no longer the frontal one - which distance teaching actually reproduces – rather, it is linked to another composition of space, so the learning environments must allow different didactics.” Andrea Gavosto

Torino fa scuola, Simone Bossi

“Is there any good thing about distance learning?” Paola Nicolin

“There is a degree of aversion to distance learning, all for good reason. And of course, this is also linked to the fact that you can ONLY make a model of teaching that is the frontal one. This is not a profitable way of doing didactics. It's very complicated to do different types of didactics in these conditions. What can be done in terms of e-learning is complementary and therefore done by school - I am thinking of research done together in groups of students for example. This form of corollary learning can be part of the teacher's and student's training. It is clear that the school in 5 years’ time will have to rethink the relationship with digital technologies but in necessarily different spaces.” Andrea Gavosto

“What were the benchmark elements for Torino fa scuola?” Paola Nicolin

“In Turin, the first pillar has been the attention to participatory experience - and if we also think of the architecture of schools in the 1970s, one of the risks we always run is that of imposing a model on schools. And we wanted to meet the needs of the school community. The second pillar was the competition and the fact that it was mainly about restoration - and given the shrinking population of our country the theme in the near future (for reasons including safety, sustainability and adaptation of space) will be more about restoration than new school buildings.” Andrea Gavosto

“What future?” Paola Nicolin

“If the Recovery Fund is able to bring important funding to the restructuring of schools there will be an opportunity to work on the Italian heritage. It is necessary to collect the needs of the individual schools, however, and transform them into guidelines to implement the project not to create 'empty spaceships' with no relationship with the school community.” Andrea Gavosto

Torino fa scuola, Bdr bureau

“How to approach the world of Italian didactics and the culture of the Italian projects? Can schools as building site be a driver for the economy today?” Paola Nicolin

“Absolutely yes, on the basis of our experience we have estimated that a total renovation of the heritage of about 39 thousand school buildings would be the equivalent of 200 billion euros, therefore a colossal figure, more than 11% of GDP. If planned on a scale of 20 years, however, it is an operation that could be done. Now we have an opportunity, and it would be madness to waste it. Let's start talking again about learning spaces after the 80s, we have the funds to do so, let's think about the matching between didactics and architecture, in my opinion we need to mutually discuss and create employment and jobs around all this.” Andrea Gavosto


“How important is it to talk about school in Italy today?” Paola Nicolin

“It is clear that the Coronavirus has brought the school into the homes of all Italians, what I would hope is that the mission of the Foundation that I manage is that the debate about school becomes a heritage of the whole country.” Andrea Gavosto

Andrea Gavosto è economista e dal 2008 dirige la Fondazione Agnelli. Sotto la sua direzione la Fondazione ha concentrato le proprie attività di ricerca sui temi dell’istruzione, pubblicando studi e rapporti sul sistema scolastico e universitario in Italia. Si è laureato all’Università di Torino, completando la sua formazione alla London School of Economics. È stato Chief Economist in Fiat Group e Telecom Italia e ha lavorato presso il Servizio Studi della Banca d’Italia. Ha pubblicato numerosi saggi in campo macroeconomico, dell’economia del lavoro e dell’istruzione.


Cover image: Torino fa scuola, Francesca Cirilli

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