The future of school design is in process

I was asked the other day: How do I see the future design of school buildings?  I thought hard about it because hasn’t all that has got to be said on the future of school design been said? After all we are surrounded by organisations trying to make predictions – 2030 and 2050 seem to be two favourite year markers.

Waitakiri Priamry School, Christchurch

Waitakiri Primary School, Christchurch, New Zealand. Opened in 2014. Combined two schools after the Canterbury earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. the community was involved in the process of developing the new school.

It seems to me that while design will continue to stimulate debate and prompt innovations perhaps a more interesting and deep rooted innovation lies in the process rather than product. Like many innovations, it isn’t new, it is a reapplication in a context that enables it to happen.

Fifteen years ago I co-wrote a book: “Managing the Brief for Better Design”. One of the central themes of the book was dialogue between the different stakeholders in the production of the built environment. It was also about the role of design – “briefing is design, design is briefing”- was the mantra that I and my co-author repeated as nauseam.  I still run it out when asked to talk about briefing. Using design to probe problems and their solutions seemed fundamentally important then, and it still does now

In “Managing the Brief” we also said that briefing is a process that starts before the project has been identified and continues after the project has been defined and the solution (generally a building of some sort) has been built. The point was, and I believe still is, that the built environment provides a supportive framework for learning and teaching. To do that there has to be a real understanding of the needs of the users (teachers, students, parents, the community interests) and the client which may be different from the school(s). To understand these needs demands a dialogue. The process of design can be used to explore the questions as well as the solutions. This is what good designers do.

Looking over the horizon I can see much more interest in this with education clients (for example, the Ministry of Education in New Zealand) now more often allowing dialogue to happen with teachers and students, and others before the discussion about the building. In many cases such discussions are a revelation to the organisations (schools or clients) about the way that they operate too. In other words, it is never just about the building.

Something to think about

If you are about to, or want to, reconfigure the spaces you use, be prepared to probe deeply:

  • What you do, how you do it and when you do it.
  • How might this change in the future (next week, next year, in five years…)
  • Then ask yourself, how do the spaces and technology you use support this now and how should it do so in the future?

Learning depends on motivation

My good friend Julia Atkin, an education and learning consultant, makes a big thing of saying that the way that humans learn is the same as it has always been.

julia-and-mie

Julia Atkin (left); Mie Guldbaek Broens, education anthropologist (right)

“Whether a human learns depends on their motivation,” she says. “A great teacher will find ways of motivating students and what motivates one student is not necessarily the same thing that motivates another.” Continue reading

Making Space with LEGO

This year I was invited to the 2016 LEGO Idea Conference and work with the International School of Billund, Denmark to present and discuss how the physical environment supports the education approach of the school. Currently the school takes students at primary age but will soon begin taking older students.

Top left a model of the classroom for the conference; top and below right the actual classroom space

It lives in a renovated secondary school building in  Billund, and so has had to find ways of using an existing structure for its innovative approach to teaching – they avoid the more traditional approaches.

For my part in this discussion I took one typical space to describe what happens there. The space, actually an old classroom box, is divided into different zones so that students can work in different ways. This is guided by the teachers who , over a period of time, will ensure that students experience different learning modes from focused individual, collaborative, show and tell. while they follow a curriculum they teach subjects using a variety of approaches so that students engage in different ways. This was reflected in the way they set up the learning space.

 It was fascinating to visit the school and talk with the teachers, parents and students about how it works. They have to work hard to convince parents about this approach to teaching and it shows the difficulties that face even those who are in what many would say is a fairly progressive education environment.

For the curious: I was asked to do a video interview with two Danish students. Here is what happened:

Frank Lloyd Wright in Tokyo

I was in Tokyo recently and came across a small school designed by iconic American Architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The Jiyu Gakuen Myonichikan a school that was started as a junior/senior school for girls in 1921. Although the school has since moved, the building is still used and was fairly recently renovated.

So far as I know, it is the only complete FLW building in Tokyo. It was built at the same time as the Imperial Hotel.

Creating the Intuitive Learning Environment

Understanding how people behave as they do is key to creating responsive environments.2016-04-11 15.27.37

I was in a school the other day. It was a delight to be in. Its overall aesthetic design wasn’t anything to speak of, it was in an old industrial building near a town centre. It had plenty of light, and while the young students were playing around there wasn’t loud noise – you could hear quite clearly. Everybody was engaged. The environment was responsive – staff and students could easily move the furniture around. Above all it seemed intuitive to use.

Continue reading

Future Learning Spaces: The shape of things to come…

The first in a series of forums by UK Learning for this year focuses on International and UK trends that are demonstrating through research and evidence-based practice the need to rethink approaches to preparing young people for 21st century learning. (Programme here)

Forum image

The forum is bringing together the shared practical experience of teachers, researchers, design professionals and architects to share the new and developing perspectives and their implications for the design and delivery of new spaces to improve learning outcomes.

It will explore the global trends in education, latest research in school buildings, and how to design learning spaces to support users.

Contributors and delegates from national and international partners will present their views alongside
evidence-based case studies to support, encourage, enable and equip change.

*UK Learning is a membership organisation focused on developing effective, sustainable and stimulating future educational facilities. This is underpinned by the belief that the way to do this is to bring together teachers, educators, design professionals, researchers – indeed – all those who value the importance of improving learning opportunities and life chances for young people. UK Learning is also the UK chapter for cefpi.

How can your school do things better?

There needs to be better evidence for the decisions we make when designing and creating learning environments. Much of what is done, is based on ‘evidence’ that is often not substantiated yet presented as if it were the final word. My friend Peter Lippman, in his book “Evidence-based design for Primary and Secondary Schools” relentlessly and rightly argues the point. Indeed Peter Barrett alludes to this in his recent study that led to his “Clever Classroom” report (see my post: Understanding Complexity in Clever Classrooms).

LEEP

So, can your school do things better? At the OECD Centre for Effective Learning Environments we are aiming to provide answers. Continue reading

The best kindergarten you’ve ever seen!

The much lauded Fuji Kindergarten on the edge of Tokyo is certainly the best and most enchanting kindergarten that I have seen. It deserves the many acclamations it has had.

In his very engaging TED talk just released, the architect Takaharu Tezuka gives his personal view. It is well worth watching!

As if to sum up his approach to the design of this place he once told me that “Good design starts with people!” It is a philosophy he holds for all the buildings that he designs. Indeed on the several occasions I’ve worked with him or been in his company, the people take centre stage as they should. The humanity behind this design certainly shines through.

But there is more than that – it has spirit! If you want to create a great place to be, then you have to create a place with spirit. But how? What is the recipe? Is there one, even? Perhaps it is the client who was prepared to take a risk and do things differently. Perhaps it is the design that is prepared to acknowledge that young children can be exposed to challenging environments. Perhaps it lies in a deceptively simple idea well executed that creates a fun place to be. It could be all or none of these things, or something else. Whatever it is, it is that spirit that we should create in our schools.

If you get the chance to visit Fuji, you will sense the fun and enjoyment that the kids and indeed the teachers get out of being here, and I’m sure you will find it fun too.

Congratulations once again Taka!

A Lever for Learning

The quality of the physical learning environment can leverage good teaching but cannot replace poor teaching. Can we help teachers make better use of this lever?

How can the physical learning environment become a lever for better teaching and learning?

How can the physical learning environment become a lever for better teaching and learning?

A few weeks ago I asked a group of educationalists how much training teachers get in manipulating space. My thinking was, well shouldn’t they? After all space is complex, you can create all sorts of spaces for different things to happen. Indeed how you ‘decorate’ a space influences how people feel in it. How you arrange the furniture affects how you can effectively use different teaching approaches. The answer was, Continue reading

Understanding Complexity in Clever Classrooms

Differences in the physical characteristics of classrooms explain 16% of the variation in learning progress over a year, says the research findings from the Holistic Evidence and Design (HEAD) project. Research from earlier stages of this 3 year project have already been published. But little has been said about another reason that this is important work.

Seven factors most influential in the classroom environment.

Seven factors most influential in the classroom environment.

It is not every day that a study into school buildings is published that takes a very refreshing look at the problem of understanding the complex interrelationships between us as humans, the way we interact with our environment and the impact on student outcomes. Continue reading