Kurani Design Firm Aims to Re-Imagine the Classroom


Kurani, a design firm that partners with schools and adult education centers in the US and beyond to create learning spaces where knowledge can thrive, is attempting to rethink the classroom.

The firm is working with schools to re-imagine obsolete learning spaces through a co-creation process in which teachers, students and citizens are involved in the conceptualization stage to update learning environments to make them more effective.

Kurani takes facilities that can no longer keep up with the practices and learning demands of 21st century students and turns them into functional, intuitive learning spaces. They explain that schools that are half a century old just aren’t equipped for modern educational needs.

“Because of the baby boomers, lots of schools were built in the 1950s and 1960s,” Kurani says. “Those are coming to the end of their shelf life. And since the 1960s, education has changed so much, both in the way we approach it and the way we participate in it. Learning has changed but facilities haven’t. That’s where we come in.”

The Kurani team, led by Danish Kurani, combines architects, urbanists, anthropologists and researchers to design 21st century classroom prototypes and urban campuses in the US, Australia and Brazil. Among these projects are the Nelson Mandela School for Social Justice, New York City’s EPIC High Schools and a collaboration with the State of Rio, Brazil, in an ambitious project in which Rio plans to build 900 schools by 2030. Kurani also carried out research, mapping, and field studies to identify potential sites for 6 schools in Complexo do Alemao.

The EPIC High Schools’ campus design was assigned to Kurani and the planning process lasted six months. It included workshops, walking tours and interactions with students, teachers and the community. This enabled the Kurani team to better understand the vision, needs and expectations of these schools. Kurani describes the co-creation planning process as:

“[T]aking the school and nearby residents through a period of research, observation, and self-discovery . . .  allows us to base design on meaningful insights about the project’s users and their daily lives.”

Among the learning spaces created is the ‘sunken pit,’ which is filled with foam cubes and has a flexible arrangement potential. It can be turned to a round table or even an amphitheater.

Kurani also designed what are called “breakout spaces”, which are rooms for one-to-one instruction and group work. Another learning space is the “Learning Partner Incubator” which, according to NPR, is a workspace that independent organizations and individuals can use to engage EPIC students in real world projects.

The design philosophy of Kurani rests on a community-centric concept. As Kurani states on his website:

“Our goal is simple: give people a place where they are comfortable, happy, and have the tools to succeed.”

EPIC schools aim to help African-American and Latino students become college and career ready. The EPIC High Schools design that Kurani implemented expands on the idea that if education subjects are not distinct entities, then classrooms shouldn’t be, either.

The campus prototype designed by Kurani consists of eight learning spaces across NYC with prototype designs for 17 classrooms and several common spaces and other amenities.