Article published on Architecture & Design on 7/05/19.
Schools have moved beyond traditional building design to creating unique learning spaces for their students.
Contemporary learning environments are mostly adaptive spaces designed to provide an enriching experience to students so that they are inspired, stimulated and motivated to acquire knowledge through communication, collaboration and independent thinking.
Designing learning spaces is a complex and ever-evolving process.
Modern day schools don’t just deliver education; they have to foster a positive environment for students, as well as provide the tools to socialise, communicate and gather information.
Key school design trends include multifunctional and flexible learning spaces, vertical expansion, technology integration, transparency, outdoor learning and biophilic design.
Multifunctional and flexible learning spaces
Flexible learning spaces take students out of the traditional classroom structure so that they can collaborate with others or work independently. Designed as breakout spaces within or outside the classroom, in corridors or even outdoors, they allow greater freedom and opportunity to students to learn outside the conventional classroom.
Several schools, colleges and universities have introduced multifunctional and adaptive learning spaces.
For instance, St John’s Bosco College in Piara Waters, Western Australia designed by Santelli Architects has an innovative building design based on shared learning spaces supporting best practice and 21st century teaching methods.
Custom-designed glass sliders from Lotus were installed to keep the space fluid and encourage open communication.
When inner-city areas become increasingly dense and land becomes scarce, going up is the most practical solution for schools. Vertical schools are trending in urban environments where land comes at a premium and there’s very little room to expand at the ground level.
Standard school architecture is eschewed in vertical educational facilities; however, students continue to benefit from the same opportunities and facilities such as sports areas, outdoor spaces and multifunctional hubs.
Richmond High School in Victoria, for instance, has created a four-level campus providing local students with outdoor horticulture deck, amphitheatre, courtyards and state-of-the-art teaching spaces and common areas.
Classroom learning is not just about books, whiteboards, pen and paper.
A typical 21st century classroom relies on technology and online resources for more effective learning. Pearson Education reports that 64 per cent of Australian schools are working towards using mostly online resources and making greater use of technology.
Classrooms are integrating technology into every aspect of learning by installing screens, projectors and sound systems as well as through campus-wide Wi-Fi connectivity.
Learning is rarely confined to the classroom while online connectivity opens up the entire campus to learning, thereby promoting independent thinking.
Architectural transparency through the use of glass windows, walls and partitions not only allows natural light into classrooms but also encourages students to connect with the outdoors. From a more practical standpoint, transparent design is also an ideal safety and security measure with reduced opportunity for bullies or intruders, helping make vulnerable students feel safe.
An open design also encourages communal learning and easy observation for educators, allowing students to collaborate and gain inspiration from the work of others. At Flinders University, Lotus Glas-STAX was added to the front of the older building creating an open, airy space that seamlessly connected the interior to the exterior.
Outdoor learning spaces break down the walls of traditional classroom design to create a more engaging environment that encourages exploration and socialisation, with the added benefits of natural light and fresh air.
Outdoor learning improves creativity and reduces stress. In addition to facilitating hands-on learning, outdoor areas in education facilities can incorporate ponds, rainwater tanks, flower beds and fruit and vegetable patches that not only function as extensions of the curriculum but also connect students with nature.
Biophilic design is an architectural design concept that introduces various elements of nature into the built environment to help improve wellbeing, creativity and productivity amongst occupants. In an education facility, it can improve mental concentration and focus, and enhance learning capacity in students.
Biophilic design uses natural materials such as wood, organic and biomorphic shapes and forms, as well as live plants, earthy textures and colours, natural lighting and ventilation. It is particularly recommended for dense urban environments where students may not have a lot of access to outdoor spaces.