How can we transform an educational institution via experience-centered spatial interventions?

The Private Sezin School Project was designed to infuse flexible pedagogical spaces with a spatially hybrid program that fosters meeting, making, learning, and working into a school with a 50-year legacy as well as its own culture. Borrowing from Fuller’s “trim tab” concept, the project entailed light-handed yet effective interventions conducted over a duration of 3.5 years. Starting with the redesign of the Open Roof Space and extending to a redesign of areas used by elementary school students, the project’s scope allowed ATÖLYE to take a truly iterative, user-centered approach.

Project Team
Ali Arslan, Ayşe Esin Durmaz, Begüm Ural, Berna Erenoğlu, Ece Çiftçi, Elif Karaköse, Emre Erbirer, Engin Ayaz, Lola Kotilov, Nesile Yalçın, Özgür Önurme, Şevval Ceylan

Project Leads
Berna Erenoğlu
Nesile Yalçın

Yerçekim (Photo) Network Artika (Contractor), Burak Koçak (Seperator Design), Doruk Mühendislik (Structure), Katı Hal (Hardware Prototyping), Saf Mühendislik (Acoustics Consulting), Serdar Selamet (Fire Consulting), Seçkin Maden (3D Visualization), Sinapsen Elektrik (Electric), Total Teknik (Mechanical)  

The Private Sezin School Project started with a participatory meeting in February 2014, where we facilitated a design thinking session with 20 teachers, the administration team, and external advisors. Various insights emerged from this session, including the need for deliberate interaction zones between parents and teachers, a more spacious and open layout for teachers’ private work zones, a hands-on learning space via a maker lab, and reimagining corridors as interaction zones with increased transparency.


ATÖLYE first developed a strategic spatial program for the school’s formerly dormant rooftop space, which covered an area of approximately 1700m² within 15000m², allowing for experimentation while offering sufficient room for a critically diverse program. Our new layout for the Open Roof Space included a large teachers’ zone, a flexible events space, a public meeting room dedicated to educational NGOs to foster partnerships, a maker lab with three sections (media, wood, biology), and small lounge booths for comfortable parent-teacher dialogue.

In the second phase of the project, ATÖLYE embarked on the redesign of elementary school areas with a transdisciplinary team of architects, graphic designers, engineers, as well as service and learning designers, who completed over 200 hours of fieldwork. In addition to holding interviews, cultural probes, and co-design workshops with students and teachers, we were also informed by our passive on-site observations and analysis of local and global future-of-learning practices.

Such strategic programming ensured that the outcome would be novel, independent from formal design elements. Furthermore, the layout and proximity of these different zones throughout the school were informed by parameters such as the need for natural daylight, visual privacy, acoustic isolation, and persona-based circulation paths. During the design research process, ATÖLYE was able to gain valuable insights regarding the students’ need for varying levels of privacy in different settings, such as a “stage” for student presentations or more personal territory in the form of individual desk spaces. Another eye-opening realization was the need to cater to more introspective students as well as extroverts. To that end, ATÖLYE’s solution was to design a loft-within-the-classroom space with cushion seating, which the students use for various functions such as reading, peer-to-peer learning, resting, or an intimate conversation.

Rather than opting for conventional integrated furniture systems, ATÖLYE expanded its existing CNVS furniture line with new modular and flexible products. New furniture included trapezoidal student desks with writable surfaces, which allow students to sit in any angle that is comfortable for them while taking notes and exploring ideas on the desk itself. By challenging the stagnant seating arrangement people have come to expect from classrooms, in a way, the furniture system encourages all users to become active participants rather than passive observers or victims of context.

Similarly, by removing the walls of the classrooms, ATÖLYE was able to infuse each space with multiple focal points instead of a central blackboard. As a proxy, when designing the space, we explored three distinct layout configurations to optimize the modules’ pattern language; however, dozens of alternative scenarios are likely. Aside from the custom-made CNVS series, ATÖLYE’s collaboration with the British startup Open Desk, an open-source furniture system, added diversity to the portfolio via CNC-fabricated flat-pack models.

Furthermore, the design team optimized teachers’ zone by developing a personalized desk separators rather than private desks, which diminished the space need by %35 while increasing likelihood of interaction among teachers. All furniture was manufactured within 50 km of the site, while utilizing FSC-plywood, natural felt, recycled sponge and recycled steel.

In terms of spatial graphics, the project used a progressive design language that emphasizes values such as playfulness, openness and wit. Combining a neutral typeface such as Sailec with pastel tones and laser-cut plywood signage produced at ATÖLYE, the signage cultivates all users to feel both cared for and empowered. Copywriting and graphics stay away from cliches while adding meaningful elements, such as an encalming message within parent-teacher interaction zone to appease the potentially stressful conversations.

The Private Sezin School Project has set a local example in terms of stakeholder engagement. A project whose seeds were sown in a design thinking workshop in 2014, the transformation is one that entailed deep collaboration. Throughout the research and schematic design phase, we conducted frequent site visits, passive observation sessions, interviews, and design crits to ensure that we properly prioritized design tactics in generating a user-centered layout. ATÖLYE also engaged a leading NGO, the Education Reform Initiative, in the design phase, thus sparking institutional collaborations which will help scale this space’s impact to other schools. Collaborations were held with select student-teacher groups within the school, who designed, prototyped, and manufactured the lighting system in the event space, thus setting a visible example of ownership-via-participatory design.

Altogether, the Private Sezin School Project has been a unique opportunity to affect educational habits for all actors. ATÖLYE’s scope will likely extend towards post-occupancy, including event curation, design feedback research, maker lab operation, and new furniture manufacturing, thus enabling rapid iteration and continuous improvement.

The first phase of the project, Open Roof, has been awarded the Selective Committee’s Incentive Award in Arkitera’s Employer Awards.

Open Roof Impact Assessment Project

With the Open Roof Space Impact Assessment Project, ATÖLYE aimed to measure the effectiveness of different areas in the Open Roof Space and measure the impact of the space on user behavior. During construction, the project team decided to leave the space partially incomplete in terms of furniture and machine infrastructure, thus initiating an iterative process that involved observing and learning from real-life user behavior for a period of six months. By conducting successive spatial interventions to both the existing spaces and those left empty in the first phase of the project, we were able to improve the user experience in each area with a flexible design that meets the needs and expectations of different stakeholders.

At the end of the first six months, ATÖLYE conducted concise workshops with 40 students to discover their opinions and ideas regarding the space and the way it is used. With an interactive plan study that was located in the school for a week, more than one hundred students’ ideas were harvested. In addition to these methods, we examined the outcomes of a school-wide questionnaire conducted with teachers, as well as studying photos from the activities held within the different areas of the Open Roof Space. We created a productivity map by synthesizing the data collected from various styles and methods of research. Our team also developed recommendations for areas that were found to be used inefficiently.

After analyzing all these inputs, it was time to repurpose the three vacant spaces to accommodate both the curricular and extracurricular needs of teachers as well as the students’ expectations from the ideal space where they would want to spend their spare time. In the end, ATÖLYE designed three flexible classrooms that reflect three distinct concepts: “a space that facilitates alternative learning and working styles,” “a space that allows information sharing,” and “a space that aims to spread the culture of production to the entire school.”

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