Over the past eight years I have been privileged to visit Copenhagen regularly, spending time with Jens Guldbaek, his wife Birte Broens and their daughter Mie Guldbaek Broens. They have become dear friends, and I write this in tribute to Jens.
It was with great sadness that we learnt of the recent death of Danish school design visionary and friend to many, Jens Guldbaek. Jens was known across the world as a passionate advocate of school design and pedagogy. His joy, curiosity and generosity of spirit touched many.
In 2002, Hellerup, the school without walls opened its doors. Jens was the creative mind behind the vision for re-imagining school and those now-famous stairs.
At the time, Jens was the advisor to the local authority, with the responsibility of designing a school to meet future learning needs of today’s generation. The spaces enabled multiple learning modes, for students working alone, in small groups, a class together, and large gatherings. The design was ahead of its time, with flexible spaces, responsive to the needs of students.
I was first introduced to Jens, Birte and Mie when they came to Australia in February 2011. I was working at Northern Beaches Christian School in Sydney at the time, and Jens was excited by the innovative learning spaces and pedagogy. They also visited other schools, including Dandenong High School and found some kindred spirits in Australia.
The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age reported on his visit in an article Better designs that lead to better learning. Jens despaired that many schools had yet to appreciate the urgency of disrupting the current model of school, both the physical environment and teaching and learning practices:
“Adding smart boards and other teaching aides is not sufficient to engage today’s students,” he says. “Schools are still ignoring the fact that if you have one teacher in a class, no one really pays attention. We now know that teaching and learning in teams works best. That means we have to get out of the classroom and open the school up.”Sydney Morning Herald, Feb 28, 2011
Jens will be remembered as an educational revolutionary of the 21st century, seeking to radically redesign schools for the future, in so doing he gained global recognition and respect. He was a passionate advocate for learners – the kids – and a determined activist for change. He challenged the status quo in education. This legacy remains as Mie continues the work, through consultancy LOOP.bz.
Jens was also a dedicated and loving husband, father, grandfather. He was a wonderful friend. We miss him. But we will keep the fire burning.
Find out more about Jens and his passion for kids, learning and school design: