Guiding Out

Guiding Out

Urbanism and Education

by Martim Guimarães da Costa & Nuno Bigotte Santos

MSc – Architecture, MSc – Spatial Planning and Development Policies 


Guiding out: opening school and approaching to the city

By the end of the last century, following the globalization process, the concern with a universal education and teaching system had new important approaches, as a result of a growing multilateralism around this theme. Culminating this process, resulting in the beginning of a new cycle, two documents that provide important definitions and approaches on how to teach and educate were published[1]: the “World Declaration on Education for All“, in 1990, which established the need of guarantees for the universal commitment that all children, youth and adults, must have access to basic education, recognizing the role of “the basis for learning and the permanent human development” and, for this reason, Basic Education should not be understood merely as the set of learning requirements necessary for curricular success, but also the development of tools, values and attitudes, that allow children, in the future, participate actively and positively in society; secondly, the publication of the “Charter of Educating Cities“, also in 1990 (later amended on two occasions in 1994 and 2004), which established the urgent need to revisit the model of cities[2], stating that these must invest and focus also on the construction of means and instruments that make possible the affirmation of Education as one of the main pillars to be taken into account in the act of thinking and “making” the city.

I – The City as School

The question is whether Portugal has succeeded, after almost thirty years since the publication of these documents, to comply with the universal commitments that were thus established and which enable cities to be pedagogical and to appeal to the participation and coexistence of all the generations, including the younger ones, that is, if we have understood how educational formation of the child is influenced by the way we make city, in its relationship with the school, both in terms of materiality, that is, in the physical relation between school and urban space, as well as institutional, in its articulation with other organizations.

The relational city, which is the result of our relationship with it, of socialization, of paths through urban space, of discovery and teaching[3], is the city now deprived of children – we must bear in mind that the image they conceive of city is a reflection of the way they interact with and experience the urban environment of the city in which they live.

Last studies that have been made, both empirical research and theories, point to a paradigm shift which is already taken for granted: never, in the history of humankind, children have enjoyed, and therefore valued, so little public space as in the present[4]. This situation is mainly due to the state of alienation of the urban public space, where private housing now provides a space for refuge and escape from the urban environment (streets, squares, parks, gardens, and other urban spaces) , nowadays interpreted by codes of conduct as a “threat space” instead of being understood as a “space of coexistence”.

In the child and juvenile itineraries of daily life, characterized by forced and controlled displacements, the activities that children carry out in the city, are activities generically “fortified”. That is, surrounded by the walls of the houses where they live, the rooms where they rest and the classrooms they attend. In short, children are constantly placed in closed spaces, absent from urban life, from the outer spaces bearing values of sociability, without contact with the heterogeneity of urban actors.

There is an exacerbated “mobility control” by their relatives (especially parents), so that they feel children are safe. A legitimate feeling, not because of the possibility of tense and conflicting sociability, but rather because of the absence of an effective mobility policy – car use and excessive speed in urban centres, lack of policies to diminish traffic, areas of conflict between pedestrians and cars in the surrounding area of ​​schools, the implementation of the 2nd and 3rd cycles of education in the outskirts of cities (because the land was cheaper because what was spared would make it possible to transport children by bus, because there was the belief that urban growth was synonymous of economic development). That is, the absence of efficient mobility programs, articulated with the instruments of territorial management, in the use, occupation and transformation of urban land throughout the Portuguese territory, generates house-school-house paths that are rarely inclusive and which segregate more than they share.

In their itinerancy, children have to constantly face spaces of danger and threat, the result of urban conflicts between cars and pedestrians. The way we have made city (and still do nowadays), which has resulted in congested urban centres, lack of parking and car traffic, makes it impossible for children to choose other means of transport, such as bicycles. Thus, the problem is that cars in urban centres do not allow the “independent mobility” of children, so necessary for their human development. Because the way children and young people seize the city will influence their interaction with it in the future, in their social conduct, in the way they  “appropriate” urban space, it their perception and relation towards society, how they think, do and live the city, in the sense of the polis, that is, of the public, active and political life.

Children and young people have thus become a kind of “cityless citizens”. They are physically present in the urban area, but do not participate either in the processes of territorial proximity with the rest of the population, such as the neighbourhood units, or in what Appadurai called “localities production”.

In northern Europe, during the last decade, several projects have been developed between local authorities and educational institutions in order to combat all the problems identified here. For example, in Bristol in 2008 a project called “Playing Out” began to be developed, which consists of taking children from home to the streets, promoting different and multiple manifestations of group learning and socialization. The identified streets are closed once or twice a week, avoiding car traffic, to be contaminated and invaded by a training environment. Some of these streets are confrontations of school complexes, and the closures of streets are given in the interval period of classes. Five years later, the project had become a national movement and had involved about 12,000 children.

II – The School within the City

We have already seen that the way we make city, encourages traffic, congestion, social segregation, lack of a culture of citizenship against fear. However, in Portugal, not only cities reflect a wrong model of education, in an urbanistic point of view. Schools also reflect a model that is closed and in crisis, mainly architecturally speaking – from the implementation of schools, closing them into themselves and not seeking dialogue with the city, to the design of classrooms, which remain too focused on the figure of the teacher, instead of on the debate, the discussion and knowledge sharing.

But, as stated by Rui Braz Afonso (Braz Afonso, Rui, et al, 2019), School “is a topic of major interest (…) especially for society, given its central and sensitive dimension on the path towards better education and quality of life. (…) Study of this theme underlies a call to social responsibility, to the ethical horizon of the figure of the architect in defining the conditions of transformation of the built environment.

According this author, School and its architecture is a theme that may be “determinant in the near future, (…) as an element of effectiveness in addressing issues that concern all, keeping in mind the sense of collective good, in a greater approach between architecture and society in order to promote the creation not only of spaces but also of places “.

In fact, the central problem of architecture in Portuguese teaching equipment concerns three complementary situations: the application of the principle of “flatness” of a given portion of territory; the wall of its perimeter; and, finally, the implantation of a set of buildings by means of formulas, without taking into account the context and the culture of the place, based on an attempt of formal clarity of the typological and programmatic disposition, disposing a too formalized spatial hierarchy of educational and pedagogical valences.

Herman Hertzberger, in “Space and Learning”, documents multiple spatial learning conditions and illustrates various reflections and reinventions of teaching models that move away from the traditional – box-shaped, heavy and opaque buildings with a long corridor serving only with rectangular classrooms (with teacher’s figure in one of the tops of the room, where he teaches within a blackboard) and promote other situations in which the design of the school complex stimulates learning, through interactive and informal environments. From the urban scale, to the detail, the author refers the school to an idea of ​​“micro city”, or rather as a continuumof the city itself: in which physical and visual permeability must be promoted between the different spaces of school complexes, interior and exterior; in which the section of the edged assembly must be worked in order to allow the interaction between different floors and the entrance of natural light; where the distribution corridor should be understood as a “street”, as a heterogeneous stage to receive multiple approaches and information, considered as a space of transition, but also of being, of coexistence with other type of activities, such as cultural or recreational activities; where there is a living space between the corridor and the classroom, which allows the student to work alone or in group, through the polyvalence or hybridity of this room, with different types of social organisation; where classrooms no longer have teacher’s figure so centralised; where one should avoid using the rectangular plant, looking for other spatialities, other human relationships; in which the classroom is also understood as home, focusing and sensitising the student to different domestic situations, since the intense life in the city often does not allow the children to live them; etc..

Finally, including children and recognizing their future role in society, is also a way to make city. As we have seen, through the relationship between architecture and education, it is necessary to open an educational model that is in crisis and urgently needs to be rethought, both by the way cities are still planned today, in their relationship with the institutions of and also by how these institutions are projected in the territory.

In concrete terms, we can say that, as a reflection, only the existence of an interface between local authorities and schools that makes it possible to adapt the educational offer to the city’s business realities and reduce the stigmatization of vocational education, will help solving cities’ demographic problems. Because in the project of the school and its relationship with the city, a more comprehensive project with deeper roots, that of society, must be implicit.



[1]Educate, from lat. “educo, -as, -are, -avi, -atum”, The same as “educate, nurture, breastfeed”. That is, “to lead”, “to guide”. The prefix “ex” (reduced to “e”), has the meaning “withdraw (by force)”, “out”, “give birth”. Thus, educating would mean “guiding out”, “leading to the outside”, “bringing to light”… This definition gave origin to this article, being adopted the meaning as title.

[2]The word city is in this article used in the evolutionist sense of Durkheim (1893), in which cities arise to approximate and organize the individuals who belong to it, each individual fulfilling a vital function in the urban structure itself, resulting in what the author means “social solidarity” (Durkheim, 1999). Durkheim, Émile. (1999) Da Divisão Social do Trabalho. Trad. Eduardo Brandão. São Paulo: 2.ª ed, Martins Fontes, pp. 85-109.

[3]Roncayolo M., Lévy J., Pacquot T., Mongin O., Cardinali P. 2003, De la ville et du citadin. Marseille: ed. Parenthèse, pp. 53-73.

[4]Alves R., Bispo S., Calcinha M. 2011, Promoting sustainable mobility in home to school journeys in a small and medium sized city. Case study of Castelo Branco. International Conference on Sustainable Urban Transport and Environment Proceeddings. Paris; Malho, M. (s.d)A criança e a cidade. Independência de mobilidade e representações sobre o espaço urbano. V Congresso Português de Sociologia. Universidade Nova de Lisboa; McMillan, T. (2007) The relative influence of urban form on child’s travel mode to school. Elsivier, Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 41 (1), pp.69-79.



Alparone F., Pacilli M. 2012, On children’s independet mobility: The interplay of demographic, environmental, and psychosocial factors. In Childrens Geographis. 10 Vols. (1), DISUP: Ed. Routledge, pp.109–122.

Appadurai A. 2004, Dimensões culturais da globalização: a modernidade sem peias. Trad. Telma Costa. Lisboa: 2.ª ed, Teorema.

Page A., Cooper A., Hampton L., Read J., Tibbitts B. 2017, Why temporary street closures for play make sense for public health. London: PlayEngland.

Ladiana D., Lacerda Lopes N., Braz Afonso R. (coord.) 2019, A Escola Ideal. Porto: CIAMH

Hertzberger H. 2008, Space and Learning: Lessons in Architecture 3. Rotterdam: 010 Publishers.