Schools – designing with air quality in mind for more socially sustainable buildings

Schools – designing with air quality in mind for more socially sustainable buildings

The importance of ensuring air exchange is a concept that has been reinforced by the Covid emergency, leaving behind a sense of unease towards enclosed environments where people spend a lot of time with other people, primarily classrooms.

The Guidelines on technical specifications regarding the adoption of mobile purification devices and fixed ventilation systems and minimum air quality standards in school environments and those bordering the same buildings (Prime Ministerial Decree – Dpcm, 26 July 2022) do not find DVArea unprepared.

In fact, the design company has been working on school construction for some time, bringing its interdisciplinary contribution to the projects on which it has worked and is working. This also includes the area of Brescia, where new Municipality of Brescia regulations in this respect have been introduced.

The need to ensure an effective exchange of air was reinforced with the COVID emergency and following a pandemic that left a legacy of discomfort towards enclosed environments – where people stay for a long time with other people – primarily classrooms that are still often designed to accommodate a large number of pupils in too small a space.


The new Prime Ministerial Decree (Dpcm) for the ventilation of school environments.

The new Dpcm should therefore be seen in this light, even if the problem should be analysed by looking at physical health and more generally in relation to mental well-being linked to our brain’s ability to perform at its best when working in the most natural conditions possible. This is a central theme for DVArea, which presented the ODUElab project during Futura EXPO.

Although we have evolved and accustomed our minds and bodies to operating in artificial environments, when we find ourselves in places with altered conditions we experience a decrease in our capabilities. Hence, in DVArea’s research and development activities, special attention was given to this issue, with a view to enriching the range of services offered by a benefit company, which also considered the studies conducted by the neuroscientist Andrea Bariselli, who before founding Strobilo for years tried to understand how what surrounds us conditions our mental faculties. Today, building on his results, we are looking together at how to highlight the relationships between the performance students are able to deliver in an ideal environment and the school context.


Healthier and safer school buildings.

In buildings for education, there is a starting situation where the saturation of volatile substances is particularly high, and this means not being able to guarantee children can concentrate in the long term. We know that beyond a certain limit, synapses occur differently; our thinking slows down and our attention span drops. As planners and technicians in the sector, we also work to prevent our children from having to study in unsuitable rooms. The same discussion can be extended to offices, in this case also measuring the effects on productivity and professional performance.

Today, dealing with the subject of aeration from a design and technology level is now commonplace, and as DVArea we have everything we need to make sensors of various kinds that detect impurities: we are talking about inexpensive devices for collecting data, which however allow us to make very effective monitoring plans. Furthermore they can also be used for fairly long periods of time and thus analyse reactions on a seasonal basis. The most interesting thing, from our point of view, is to understand and interpret this information, and to react accordingly to find better solutions. This is an investment in the demand-building phase, defining a precise database, in order to return solutions of spaces that are better performing, healthier and safer, and more congruent with the function they have to perform.


A multidisciplinary problem.

Studies agree that nature is the best reference point with respect to the possibility of “regenerating’” people, the further one moves away from the reference factors, the more stress and difficulty factors are encountered. The experiments we are conducting serve precisely to understand how we can create an environment that is as close as possible to the best performing one; as architects, we cannot lose sight of the many aspects of our profession and we must put our work into perspective starting from them.

In the specific case of educational institutes, we want to understand how to strengthen a team that has enough people within it to set up a concept that is robust and able to withstand change over time. Here we are also approaching the problem from a pedagogue’s point of view, because it is one thing to understand what the best environmental conditions for learning are, it is another to know and then rely on a process that integrates the various aspects.

In order to realise this type of building, one has to go through a multidisciplinary discussion involving the community on the management problems, so as to know what needs to be addressed.

We believe that in architecture, human well-being, whether physical or psychophysical, is a fundamental value, on a par with the aesthetic-cultural expressiveness of the project and the deployment of all solutions to limit the environmental impact. When talking about sustainability, however, almost everyone immediately thinks of the economic side rather than the performance of the structure; this is where aspects come into play that are not only energy and social, but above all concern health and well-being, to which we are particularly attached as a benefit company.

Operating with air quality in mind also means creating socially more sustainable buildings, or at least this is one of the aspects DVArea considers when dealing with this issue.

Of course, the standard sets a course: the new decree directs choices in this direction, but we, regardless of this, aim to collect sufficient data to be able to plan with greater awareness and obtain effective solutions. We look at today and project ourselves forward; in other words, “now the issue is about ventilation” but we need to anticipate future trends.


Regenerative design.

Our method? After collecting the data, we draw up a monitoring plan and suggest design interventions that can be multi-level. There are non-invasive intervention hypotheses with a very significant impact. In the specific case of schools, for example, opening and closing the doors and windows of classrooms on a regular basis is a very simple and inexpensive system that significantly improves conditions in certain contexts. It is a solution that requires no structural intervention and in the immediate future can yield tangible results. There is then a second, more technological level of intervention, in some cases with “technologies” inspired by nature, but still relatively simple, which in the case of the school consists of aiming to improve certain plant components, for example by installing mechanisation elements for the automatic opening and closing of doors and windows, CMVs that exchange air, or checking whether the structure has a BMS that allows dynamic management of the setting of the air exchange and filtering systems. Finally, the third level of intervention, which is definitely more invasive, involves the redesigning of the building in varying depth to breathe new life into the spaces and making them more efficient.

DVArea favours a sustainability-oriented approach. In the case of schools, we generally turn to the managers – who are not technicians but people who through their background are more sensitive to the critical aspects of the service they provide – who dialogue with the institutions on which their institution depends; in order to do so, however, they must be able to understand the connection between the technical aspect and the solution to the problem. The assignment or consultancy therefore translates into a kind of “assistance” including by proposing partnerships to solve specific critical issues or by co-participating in targeted funding calls.

Alessandro Vitale

16 ott 2022

6' min read


#dpcm #schools #ventilation #sustainability #oduelab #saturation #volatilesubstances #concentration #performance #wellbeing #bigdata #sustainability #regenerativedesign

Alessandro Vitale:

Co-founder DVArea e CEO Bimfactory.