Panyaden School: Design with Purpose and Principles

Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.

—Oscar Wilde

 

My time spent in elementary school is not something that I look back on with a particularly strong sense of affection. Though I was lucky enough to have been taught by a few thoughtful, sensitive teachers, there were also many who seemed as if they would’ve rather been anywhere else than inside the four walls of our relatively drab classrooms. The school was an average Ontario red brick building, with an abundance of pavement and concrete, and a green grassy field on which to run during recess. With its typically nondescript aesthetics and run-of-the-mill curriculum, I feel confident in saying that a pungent mold might have been more likely to seep through the building’s well-worn cracks than any semblance of inspirational beauty.

Natural beauty

Perhaps the antithesis to my own childhood educational experience, Panyaden school in northern Thailand is one of the most visually impressive schools I’ve had the privilege of seeing. The various structures of the school, including a meditation sala, pool, and dance space, are located about a 15 minute drive outside the city, surrounded by rice fields and mountains. It is an idyllic landscape, to say the least. The buildings are made from mindfully chosen, eco-friendly materials, such as bamboo and earth, with the intention of maintaining a very low carbon footprint. These materials even negate the need for air conditioning in Thailand’s hot season, as their organic elements and environmental design ensure that the interiors are kept naturally cool. Unsurprisingly, the school has been featured in many architecture and design publications that praise its forward-thinking combination of looks and values.

urrounded by northern Thailand’s rice fields and mountains, Panyaden school shows us the value in combining holistic lifestyle, education, and eco-design. Photo courtesy of Ally Taylor/Panyaden.

Foundation in Buddhist principles

Even more admirable than its unique design aesthetic is the school’s founding set of values. Based on the ancient philosophies of Buddhism, regular subjects like math, English, and science are only part of Panyaden’s in-depth curriculum: learning social responsibility, life-skills, and acquiring a healthy, holistic perspective are all equally integral aspects of the students’ well-rounded education.

When I had a chance to visit this school last year, I was blown away by the school’s sense of serenity; feelings of peacefulness do not usually wash over me upon entering an academic institution. But there is nothing institution-like about Panyaden; in fact, it feels more like an eco resort or camp than school. The mindset of valuing holism and emotional maturity as much as scholastic performance affects the entire atmosphere of the space, imbuing it with a sense of hope and peacefulness, rather than competition and judgment.

The school’s visual appearance is also very much inspired by Buddhist philosophies. Staff and students alike are encouraged to practice holistic mindfulness, and are discouraged from perpetuating a consumption-based lifestyle. Contributing to one’s community and treating others kindly are values on which Panyaden prides itself, while the teachers sincerely promote “Buddhist principles integrated with a modern curriculum,” including nutrition, clothing repair, and agricultural skills.

 

The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart.

—Buddha

 

The central pavilion during the building process demonstrates the skeleton that supports its wavy form. The bamboo comes from a local factory, a short drive away from the school. Photo courtesy of Ally Taylor/Panyaden.

Teaching children how to enjoy learning

One of the aspects of Panyaden that I really look up to is their attitude about learning. So often schools teach in very black and white terms, without opening up space for the complexities and ambiguities found in so much of our world. Teachers are seen as ‘right’; students as ‘wrong’. The truth is that when teachers are receptive to childrens’ innate knowledge, fresh ways of understanding and problem solving naturally arise, expanding everyone’s perspectives.

With its Buddhist foundation, Panyaden understands this and seeks to create a integrative learning environment, striving towards increasing sense of peace within, and connection with the natural world. By using Buddhism to blend a focus on the whole self (mind, body, spirit) with our natural world (elements, environment, society), Panyaden gives students a holistic education. Actions, as always, speak much louder than words.

“Rather than an education system which is geared to testing, to competition, and preparing people for a particular livelihood, the emphasis of Buddhist education is on teaching children how to learn, how to enjoy learning, to love wisdom for its own sake. It teaches them the emotional maturity enabling them to make use of their knowledge to create a happy life for themselves and their family and to contribute positively to the society in which they live.”

Students spend time in one of the cutouts in the pavilion’s adobe walls, where the curves of the roof and these interior cutouts mimic the silhouettes of the neighboring mountains. Children’s innate knowledge is respected by the school’s holistic mindset. Photo courtesy of Ally Taylor/Panyaden.

The emphasis on teaching children how to enjoy learning and how to love wisdom for its own sake is key to me. This is an aspect of education that is sorely lacking in many traditional educational models, particularly where rote memorization of dull facts is prized over the fulfillment of learning how to think critically for oneself.

Core values

Panyaden’s core values also demonstrate the school’s holistic intentions that we can all bring into our own lives.

1. Inner peace and wisdom through a Buddhist approach

I don’t refer to myself as Buddhist, but I do value a lot of the teachings. Practicing inner peace and wisdom in all of our day-to-day activities does wonders for preparing ourselves to learn.

2. Self-sufficient individuals through the application of common sense and traditional knowledge

Yes! This just might be a good definition for a sustainable human being: self-sufficiency through critical thinking, common sense, and wisdom to make sound choices that enhance our soil, soul and society.

3. Environmentally mindful practices

As simple as taking a mindful walk to connect with nature, taking shorter showers, and investing in energy-efficient light bulbs, mindful practices affect everyone. Or, purchase an all-natural Soma water filter, knowing that part of your money will go to help charity:water.

anyaden understands the importance of water therapy. Children are taught swimming lessons and other water-related activities in the school’s pool. Photo courtesy of Ally Taylor/Panyaden.

I really appreciate Panyaden for its attempt, and success, in merging its Buddhist values with eco-friendly design to create not only an innovative architectural structure, but a holistic educational system. Being mindful about how we educate ourselves and our loved ones can help us to notice when certain methods aren’t working for us, or when our own values aren’t aligning with those of a particular system. Education needs to be cherished, but it is also needs to change with the times, our values, and universal needs. Learning is a life-long, exciting endeavor when we look at the world as an open book, or even a film. Self-study or enrolling in night classes are important to growing our minds and spirits. How and what are you making an effort to learn today?

 

The mind is everything. What you think you become.

—Buddha