Renewing school learning spaces

It is perhaps not as easy as we assume to imagine how to transform a traditional school building into one that is more responsive to the changing pedagogical needs. An Italian researcher, Maria Fianchini, has recently published a book on a research project she ran on how to address innovation in learning spaces in existing school buildings. Here she describes the research project.

The book“Renewing middle school facilities”presents the outcomes of “Back To School”, a research project funded by the DAStU – Department of Architecture and Urban Studies of the Politecnico di Milano. The research focused innovation in existing learning environments, and in particular in lower secondary education. This work, which included a fieldwork survey with five case studies, turned out to be an intense self-learning opportunity for all participants, based on an in-depth exchange of ideas and impressions, from different perspectives.

One of the main findings highlighted is that the traditional classroom still is the most used space in schools, and always with the same traditional arrangement – desks lined up in rows and with little room for school bags. However, that is not so much on an educational choice, but rather on a lack of space and/or a state of immobility that characterises large portions of the schools. 

It became clear during the research that students and teachers are looking towards the new international and innovative pedagogical models, and different ways of conceiving a school that are more participatory. However, the research illustrated how difficult teachers find it to imagine how to physically transform existing learning spaces (and thus change their use), the extent of help they need; as if a truly different future can only be conceived in a building that is actually new.

In this sense, the entry of external experts into a school (as well as the dissemination of best practice) could help those concerned in discovering new possibilities and ways of breaking away from codified habits.

Maria Fianchini, November 2019

Maria Fianchini is Associate Professor of Architectural Technology at the Department of Architecture and Urban Studies of the Politecnico di Milano.

Fianchini, M. (Ed.) “Renewing Middle School Facilities”, Springer 2020