Altogether, the student body of Hayarden primary school – ranging from the ages of five to 12 – in Tel Aviv represents over 25 countries. The majority of the students are third or fourth generation Israeli children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, but close to half are the children of immigrant workers and refugee families hailing from Africa. In a move to better fulfil the needs of the pupils, the Hayarden School – built in the 1960s – was renovated by local firm Steinberg Fisher in collaboration with Sarit Shani Hay.

In Tel Aviv, how to answer to the influx of refugees seeking asylum in Israel is at the centre of heated dispute. In the neighbourhoods surrounding Hayarden School – where many of the immigrant families live – some residents and politicians even seek to expel them. So, when Steinberg Fisher and Sarit Shani Hay took on the 200-sq-m project, they knew that their mission wasn’t just to help build community through renewed public space: it was to make each student feel, despite all external circumstances, that they belonged when they were at school.

Before the renovation, Hayarden School lacked enticing areas that could help foster community between the children. To begin solving this problem, the designers first turned to the obvious: what’s more effective in drawing the attention of rambunctious kids than bold, playful colours? Bright Play-Doh-like hues revived the drab atmosphere and brought a dynamic attitude into the space.

Next on their agenda was the biggest priority – to express the main motif; a home – the design concept of which was set in place by Hay. Compact seating areas built into house-like structures give students to collaborate, share ideas and create outside of the classroom. The hallway was turned from a transitional space to a place for the young students to study and do activities. The areas are constructed from blonde wood that moderates the otherwise vibrant space, while the lighting parallels the mood; dark nooks and crannies were illuminated to become warm and inviting.

For children, classrooms and playgrounds inevitably become homes away from home. For those students who may have diffcult home lives after the dismissal bell has rung, schools have a huge responsibility to provide children with the feeling of community and belonging. Steinberg Fisher and Sarit Shani Hay's renovation of the Hayarden School shows that empathetic spatial design is a strong first step in doing so.