Swiss Bureau-designed school in Dubai encourages student interaction


Designed by Swiss Bureau, The Swiss International Scientific School is the first ever purpose built educational building in the region to be awarded Minergie label.

Praised by the judging panel for its vibrant design and clever use of materials, the Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai was a highly commended project in this year’s CID Awards in the public sector category. Interior architect Joakim de Rham and his team at Swiss Bureau delivered colourful spaces that encourage student interaction but also managed to obtain a Minergie label, which is a stringent Swiss certificate for sustainable standards.

“The client was working in the hospitality business in Switzerland, but after relocating to Dubai, he felt that something was missing, and he wanted a top education for his six children. He wanted us to produce an innovative design for a modern school that would offer some of the best facilities in the region. The design also needed to differentiate the Swiss School from all other schools in the region,” explains de Rham. “The client wanted us to create interiors that encourage positivity and a safe and welcoming academic environment.”

The school’s founder, Omar Danial, also a Swiss national, wanted to take inspiration from his home country, challenging designers to incorporate his brief into the Middle Eastern desert surroundings. The concept stemmed from the geography of Switzerland, including the angular shapes of the mountains and the country’s diverse natural elements, which were incorporated into the design through the use of scale and perspective.

“The client said ‘let’s get something from Switzerland’ so we reinterpreted the shapes and angles of the mountains throughout the school,” adds de Rham. “We incorporated many understated elements that remind us of our homeland and nature, such as wooden patterns on the flooring and green carpets, resembling grass. Also, the ceiling lights were randomly placed so as to evoke the idea of snowflakes.”

The open lobby at the entrance encompassing three floors ensures a strong first impression and resembles a woodland environment.

“The concept of bringing nature inside was important to the client so we decided to clad the columns in the lobby area with wood to represent the ‘tree of knowledge’. We also framed this area with a green carpet to continue the theme of nature and the outdoors and placed colourful seating poufs representing mushrooms on the floor,” he adds.

Inspired by the well-known Swiss brand Caran D’Ache, which manufacturers colour pencils, one wall in the lobby area is entirely covered with large format wooden pencils with gold lettering. This wall soon became the most popular background for students’ selfies.

Moving through the corridors, designers used different colours to help children quickly identify their classrooms. The colour they’ve used on the ceiling was also used on the flooring outside the classrooms in the shape of paint spill.

“A sense of identity was enabled through individual geometric shapes on the ceiling of each classroom. As you move into the areas designated for older children we have used more sophisticated forms, finishes and colours,” explains the designer. “We wanted to use concrete for the flooring but it was too expensive and not as good for maintenance, so we used vinyl. It has an amazing quality and is versatile enough regarding colours and wooden-style patterns.”

Apart from the bright colours on the flooring and ceiling that serve for easier wayfinding, de Rham and his team chose neutral colour schemes for the walls and furniture.

“Our goal as designers is always to do something different and on the ceilings we could play a little bit, but the rest we had to keep neutral since the children’s artwork will be a décor at the end,” he says.

Swiss Bureau design studio worked closely with DSA Architects International who used contemporary materials and technology to ensure the Swiss Minergie model. Built on a prime 67,845m² plot of land in Dubai Healthcare City Phase 2, the Swiss International Scientific School is the first building to achieve Minergie pre-certification within a cooled environment.

“All the facade, architecture and lighting have been designed and carefully calculated to maximise the use of natural light both in the classrooms and through the open windows to the corridors. All the artificial lighting is LED and when there is enough natural light in the classrooms the light automatically switches off.”

Time constraints and short deadlines are common challenges designers face in this region, however, de Rham and his team had enough time to spend seven months on research, to develop the concept further and to work alongside the architects.

“It can be a challenge to find a compromise on some designs so they suit everyone, but the client was very open to our suggestions and recommendations. The primary challenge was to please the client, and to please the students while working within a certain budget. As with any project, we have to balance creativity and costs,” adds De Rham.

He wanted to do more in design, keeping in mind the importance of the first impressions of parents and children.

“As a designer, you have to put yourself in children’s shoes, to understand their perceptions of coming into the new school. You have to understand where they are going, how they will feel and what will be their first impressions.

“You have to go back to your roots to understand what school is and how design can enhance it with new technologies and new materials.”

Joakim de Rham

De Rham also outlines the particular issues surrounding design in education.

He says: “We cannot go too far with school design. Many modern schools are now beautiful buildings, but they are cold and have a lack of harmony and fun. On the other hand, you have to balance education and design and we can never forget where we are. It is a learning environment, and we can bring a bit of fun, but we cannot do chic schools. You also have to balance the feeling of parents. When they go to a school, they shouldn’t feel that all of their tuition money went on the expensive wooden flooring or interior design that resembles a hotel.”


Since the school wanted to obtain the Minergie label, it was important to incorporate right materials that would maintain cool temperatures within the building. Electronically tintable glazing manufactured by SageGlass was selected for its ability to manage sunlight and heat, so significantly reducing energy consumption and the need for heating, ventilation and air-conditioning. The SageGlass windows also maximised the views of the Dubai skyline throughout the day, providing greater connection to the outdoors.