Education: Exposing the Art

Take away the school building, and what do you get? A real understanding of what the building itself should be about.

Remove the building and you can see education.

Imagine you have the power to manipulate everyday life in real time. Rather like in one of those ancient Greek myths where the Gods would intervene.

You have decided to look at education, and today it is schools. Now imagine you have it in your power to take away unnecessary ‘peripheral’ stuff like the buildings. Not that you are nasty you understand, but you want to remove clutter. After all if it is about students and teachers, what is the point in the rest of it?

Perhaps the scene you imagine looks a bit like one of those modern theatre productions where there are only black curtains, a black stage and some strategically positioned lights, but no props or scenery. Look at what is going on, and at what everyone is doing.

As your eyes scan the panoramic in front of you, at one end you see a small group of students huddled around a teacher demonstrating a scientific principle to an enraptured audience, while others are spread out practising a dance routine, and a few isolated souls are sitting around reading.

You may wonder at how the teacher is able to hold the attention of their students with such ease. Yet this is one of the consummate skills that great teachers have. Isn’t this the crux of education, or if you prefer, the teaching and learning experience?

Imagine, now that you are creating a physical environment around all this activity. You might create some barriers between the groups, you might adjust the lighting for one group and you could even add some furniture. What you decide to do is driven by the activities you see in front of you.

This then is the design problem. To create education spaces that truly meet the demands of education, we should start from first principles. In other words, start without a building. Too often a preconceived notion of what an educational building is or should be determines the nature of the physical environments that are created. That is surely back to front.

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