German International School Sydney: designing a healthy learning environment


There’s an interesting trend spreading around workspaces at the moment that aims to bring the outdoors inside. This isn’t just limited to workplaces. Schools are now taking notice, with the German International School in Terrey Hills in the process of creating three beautifully unique classrooms to offer students a healthy learning environment.

By offering students a connection to nature, it reduces their stress and anxiety in a learning environment. Smart building design and physics can create a climate-responsive, comfortable, sustainable, and energy-efficient dwelling.

German International School Sydney has created a unique blend of what is called Biophilic Design and Passive House (Passivhaus) Standard of Construction. Learn how their three classrooms set to open in 2022 are being designed to offer students more freedom in their learning environment and access to fresh air and movement.

What is Biophilic Design?

healthy learning environment

German International School Sydney’s new classrooms are connected to the outdoors

Biophilic design incorporates things like natural lighting and ventilation, natural landscape features and other elements, to create a more productive and healthy environment. It is also about the innate human need to connect with other living things, with nature.

Students are immersed in the rich experiences and connections they feel when they are actually in nature – with more freedom and access to fresh air and movement.

German International School Sydney’s new classrooms offer plenty of retreat spaces

This can be created in a school by:

  • Maximising natural light and ventilation.
  • Having openable windows with views of the sky and trees also allow the external natural soundscape to be heard.
  • Using natural internal textures and external fit-out for increased sensory experience.
  • Providing access to landscaped settings, as both retreat spaces and communal areas, which (however small) incorporate a whole ecosystem – including fauna, flora, rocks and water within them.

German International School Sydney’s new classrooms offer plenty of natural light

Providing spaces that are open and connected to the outdoors increases mental stimuli, energy and physical comfort levels and this, in turn, increases cognitive ability, attention and memory levels (O’Brien & Murray, 2007).

What is Passivhaus?

healthy learning environment

A close-up of the design behind keeping temperatures comfortable all year round

In response to the climate crisis, Passivhaus standards in building design allow for stable indoor temperatures and a healthy indoor environment with low running costs and low carbon-footprint.

Overall indoor air quality is improved in Passive House buildings through the use of a heat recovery ventilation system (HRV) which transmits fresh air and exhaust stale air. The HRV also eliminates the risk of mould inside the building, filters pollen for people with allergies and smoke particles during bushfire season (Betti & Knut, 2021).

The high-performance ‘fabric -first’ approach ensures very low operational energy over the Passive House building’s lifetime, and this means a significant reduction in CO2 emissions.

German International School Sydney’s Design Difference

German International School Sydney's new classrooms in development

German International School Sydney’s new classrooms in development

German International School Sydney blends biophilic design with passive house standards to make three beautifully unique classrooms that will be ready in 2022.

If you’ve ever wondered what goes into building a new structure like a school classroom, or how design practices can reduce our impact on the environment and bring us closer to nature, then follow the German International School Sydney’s journey here.

German International School Sydney (GISS) is a co-educational and bilingual school from Preschool to Year 12, offering the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma. GISS is located in Terrey Hills, (between St Ives and the beaches), with students and teachers from over thirty-five nationalities. The wholistic approach to teaching at GISS is dedicated to develop internationally minded young people who have a lifelong curiosity and enthusiasm for learning.

German International School Sydney is ready for the return to school in Term 4, with HEPA filter air purifiers ready to go in all classrooms.

Essential Details: German International School Sydney


  • O’Brien, L., & Murray, R. (2007). Forest School and its impacts on young children: Case studies in Britain. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 6(4), 249-265.
  • University of Melbourne, 2010-2012, Future Proofing Schools, 14 October 2021, An Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Project, []
  • Betti & Knut, 2021, passivehouse, 15 October 2021

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