• Friday , 13 December 2019

RIAI – Ideas Competition for a Primary School Design for 21st Century Learners

Competition Overview

The 2013 ideas competition for a primary school design is an opportunity for the Department of Education and Skills to explore with architects and educationalists the development of innovative architectural designs that respond to the emerging 21st century needs of primary school learners and teachers.

Internationally, in the past and during the 20th century, an educational paradigm was common of the school as a vehicle for delivering an accepted wisdom, where information was delivered by one person to many, where largely ‘one size fitted all’ and where the knowledge being passed on was inherently stable and to remain unquestioned.  This paradigm aligned itself very well with the practicalities of school design which governments needed to consider: cost, the need to arrange pupils in manageable groupings (classes), the efficiency of the operation of schools as buildings, availability of materials etc. The paradigm facilitated the development of school buildings and grounds that were practical. Schools that fitted the needs of that time continue satisfactorily, in different ways, to meet the ongoing needs of the present: for example, children continue to learn in classes with their peers and it is a practical arrangement for that learning to take place in classrooms.

This ideas competition provides an opportunity to pursue designs that are agile, which can accommodate future changes in learner needs and pedagogy over the coming years and decades or that even could be adapted, potentially, for the purposes of secondary education if required.

Successful learners in the 21st century increasingly need to develop a much broader palette of knowledge, behaviours and skills to succeed in life, than were needed generally in the 20th century. It is also an imperative that for modern society as a whole to succeed each 21st century learner must be empowered to succeed and achieve their maximum potential.

21st century school designs need:

  • to facilitate more peer to peer work and collaborative project-based work
  • to facilitate engagement with information that includes absorbing and understanding and also using that knowledge to build shared understanding
  • to complement the range of learning styles among learners as much as possible, so that teachers can provide for an educational experience that is personalised more than ever before to the needs of the learner.

Because 21st century primary school pupils need:

  • strong core skills in literacy and numeracy
  • from a young age, to learn the skills to access information in a variety of formats, as well as retain it
  • the ability to ‘learn how to learn’
  • to develop strong interpersonal skills, self-confidence and self-knowledge
  • to develop their ability to change and adapt.

And because 21st century schools as learning communities should:

  • express high expectations of achievement for their pupils
  • have a high quality teaching staff that builds upon the skills of teaching learned in undergraduate training courses and in continuing professional development courses. Complementary to their training but crucial to a teacher’s professional development is learning from one another’s best practice – and from learners. From that learning experience teachers can innovate in their teaching and share that innovation with their peers.
  • make it easy for school management and for teachers to identify and share the good practice and the innovation they recognise and value
  • be places where critical reflection and self evaluation are central mainstays of professional activity and are actively fostered among the teaching staff.

The architectural design of the learning environment has an important role to play in encouraging all of this activity to happen.


This competition is open to persons who are currently included on the Irish Register of Architects; those who are eligible to register without further assessment on the basis of the EU qualifications directive 2005/36/EC; those who are established in another EU Member State and eligible to provide services in Ireland; and those persons outside the EU/EEA who are registered with a national registration body and in a position to seek registration in Ireland. Persons outside the EU/EEA area should include evidence confirmation of registration with a national registration body and/or a UIA recognised professional organisation.


This competition is an open single stage architectural design ideas contest.


Competition registration can be made only on the official registration form, which is available here

Each registration must be accompanied by a registration fee of €123 which includes VAT at 23%.  A registered competitor may withdraw a registration on or before   17 October 2013 and will be entitled to a refund of the registration fee. After that date no other refunds can be made in any circumstances whether a valid entry is submitted or not.


Following the jury review and recommendation, the winning scheme will be awarded an honorarium of €10,000.00. It is envisaged that a minimum of three and up to a maximum of nine schemes will be premiated each to receive an honorarium of €2,000.00 each.


Competition Registration Opens:    11/10/2013
Withdrawal of Questions Deadline:    25/10/2013
Registration and refund of fee:  17/10/2013
Answers Circulated:     01/11/2013
Submission Deadline: 28/11/2013


The Competition Brief, reports, drawings, site photographs and regulations will only be available once entrants have registered. Download Registration form here

Further Inquiries email – C O’Dwyer – codwyer@riai.ie


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