There is so much more to designing new school layouts than providing rooms to learn in and hallways to travel down. How the rooms are organized, how the hallways flow, how much natural light and fresh air are offered – each of these factors play an integral role in the daily life of students.

Aside from providing students with clean, safe, functional spaces, designers must recognize that new school builds are complex and multi-layered projects. Students need to be stimulated, encouraged and inspired – not just by teachers and administration, but also by their physical surroundings.

Here are five school typologies, ideal for new schools in Alberta, BC and beyond.


Intended to simplify the pathway students take as they move from one activity to the next, the Spine/Street layout offers a central, linear space that acts as the building’s focal point.

The school’s main entrance rests on one end, while classrooms, offices and learning spaces are situated along the spine. Clerestory windows provide natural light and ventilation, creating the feeling of a bustling street that acts as both hallway and central gathering space.


Much like the previous layout follows the familiar model of a street space, the City/Town layout takes the recognizable groupings and circulatory patterns of municipalities and places them within a single building.

The school’s main gathering space becomes the Town Hall, with everything else in the building situated around it. The flexible and open instructional spaces surrounding the Town Hall are equivalent to a city’s plazas, streets and parks.


Best suited for large, multi-storey high schools, this typology is modelled after the typical office layout. Acting as the school’s centre, a full-height atrium allows for natural light and brings students together in a spacious and airy gathering space.

Glazed partitions and windows overlooking the atrium help create defined, yet flexible, learning areas while still allowing each classroom to remain visually connected to the rest of the building.

Strawberry/Learning Cluster 

A central core provides circulation as well as shared gathering areas, while classrooms and administrative spaces are clustered into smaller “strawberries,” which branch off from the main space.

Sometimes referred to as the Strawberry/Spine layout due to its use of the same street or spine typology for circulation. Often schools designed with this layout in mind specialize in particular subjects or focus on fostering close relationships between students and staff.


Acknowledging the role the natural environment plays in a student’s learning process, the Courtyard layout offers a secure, sheltered microclimate. Courtyards vary in size and shape and create the option to offer outdoor activities year round.

While a Courtyard may increase the requirements for circulation space and building envelope, the benefits – which include access to natural light, ventilation and accessibility to outdoors – make the additional considerations worthwhile. 

The leaders of Tomorrow 

Aside from school layouts, many other physical and spatial factors play a role in how students learn. From the colour and texture of the materials used to how a school is connected to the greater community, the act of creating spaces for growing is no small task.

Yet, with an open-mind to new research and a willingness to be inspired by successful schools across the globe, the designers of today play a huge role in shaping the leaders of tomorrow.