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Evolution of Classroom Design: Tracing the History and Impact on Education

Where is classroom design start?

Most of us have probably read the House on the Prairie series, or seen the TV Show, if you haven’t, I’m not sure your childhood was complete. 😲

I’m joking, but they are classics about a young girl and her family who were American settlers, many, many years ago.

Where I was going with that is, if you have read it, you know the tales about the one-room school house on the prairies with a small class of students ranging from ages 5 – 18, generally in rural areas 12 – 18 (specifically for boys) was more of an option as they had to work on the farms and help their families.

One-Room School House Replica

But anyways, you get the point. Because my research hasn’t found anything much earlier than that, we will start with that. In America, I guess that was kind of the start.

One room, one teacher, and a few students from farms in the surrounding area. In Winter all the children (well most) would travel by horse or foot to be taught to children of all ages. In Summer, it was mainly younger children and girls who came, due to the boys having to help on the farms.

In these classrooms there were rows. The teacher, a desk, and a blackboard sat at the front. And the students sat in rows facing the teacher. Generally, on hard, wood benches with a desk (depending on the school) in front of them. The youngest sat at the front, the oldest at the back.

However, with the industrial era and the ban on child labor at the turn of the 20th century, larger cities started to form, and having multiple grade levels in one room wasn’t sufficient. So, they moved to separating the children based on grade level and having one teacher per grade level.

This too was still in rows, looking at the front of the classroom where the teacher lectured.

Classrooms May Have Looked a Little Like This

Due to the post-war budgets and the Baby Booms saw a spike in the number of children enrolled each year, schools because more cost-conscious with their designs. Generally speaking, they were flat-roofed and ensured each classroom had maximum access to fresh air and daylight. But at the same time, to meet the needs quickly, often design innovations were forgotten to produce more schools quicker.

Following that, the 60s/70s again questioned the traditional rowed version of classrooms and more open-floor schools began to emerge. But with the budgets tightening, due to the decade of meeting the Baby Boom demands, and technology enhancement, schools became dark once again. Often windows and natural ventilation were replaced by fluorescent lights and mechanical ventilation systems, to try and save energy.

Throughout the 80s the construction of portable “temporary” classrooms commenced and through to the mid-1990s, it was realized these “temporary” solutions were becoming permanent. It was then that US officials realized that the state of schools across the nation had started to crumble.

Example of a Temporary Portable Classroom

Moving on to 1998, everyone became more environmentally aware. Causing officials to step back and take in the situation and try to resolve it. This led to the debut of the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system. Environmentally friendly features were introduced as well as a renewed interest in the well-being of the students that had first come into play during the depression. Natural light improved indoor air quality and more was relooked at and is still being improved today.

Along with that, an understanding that our students are no longer being trained to work in factories anymore is becoming widespread. The belief is that rows no longer prepare students for the working world, meaning many schools are shifting to a more flexible design.

Gorgeous Photo of a Flexible Seating Classroom at the American Embassy School in New Delhi - courtesy of Education Snapshots

Classrooms are beginning to be a lot more accommodating of collaboration and group work, some introducing flexible seating, with soft seating, breakout areas, quiet areas, and more… This style of design also stems from the knowledge that no 2 students are alike, therefore not all have the same learning style.

Re-designing your classroom to fall in line with the flexible learning style? Start by adding soft seating to a breakout zone or quiet zone! Reach out to us today for a quote –


Brite, J. (2014, March 04). A Continuing Education: The History of Classroom Design. Retrieved from Architect Magazine:

Education Snapshots. (2020). American Embassy School in New Delhi. Retrieved from Education Snapshots:

Miller, C. (2021, December 07). Evolution of the Classroom is Going...Where? Retrieved from Elevatus Architecture:

Nelson, B. (2014, November 04). School Design Through the Decades. Retrieved from Mosaic:


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