Designing from Inside Out: Lessons from Sydney

Strong client leadership, a clear and well articulated innovative vision for education, and iconic architect Frank Gehry promises to do more than just raise the profile of the business school at University of Technology, Sydney. There are lessons for all of us.

The scaffolding is coming off Frank Gehry's new building for the new business school at the University of Technology, Sydney. (c) Roy Green

The scaffolding is now coming off Frank Gehry’s new building for the new business school at the University of Technology, Sydney. (c) Roy Green

What is really important about this project is not just the architecture itself, but the deliberate strategy of rethinking the approach to business school education before getting started on the building design. Continue reading

Engage, Enrich, Envision: Creating a Common Language for Learning Space

When working with people from different disciplines, it is perhaps obvious that everyone should be able to grasp the basic concepts and language that the others use. If they cannot, then such conversations become at best unfruitful and at worst misleading. 

enrich engage -04

So often when designers meet clients and users of buildings, they present information in such a way that is inaccessible to their audience. Or, they ask questions in such a way that the people cannot respond easily. Therefore the solution must be to establish a common language that enables everyone to discuss issues in such a way that they understand each other. Here is one example of a project to do this.

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The Key to Effective Learning Environments

The idea that merely redesigning a school building will on its own lead to improved student outcomes and in particular drive education transformation is still being given more credence than it deserves. But the physical environment does play an important role.

Dandenong High School, Victoria, Australia

Dandenong High School, Victoria, Australia: The design of this environment was led by the school principal

All you need to do, so the argument goes, is redesign the physical learning environment and the rest follows – teachers will teach differently and students will learn more effectively. As attractive as the idea sounds, it is far from what the evidence suggests. What really leads to improvement in a school is effective school leadership and good teaching backed by coherent policy making. A well designed physical learning environment will contribute to it, but is not itself the driver. Indeed effective leadership is also the key to an effective learning environment. Continue reading

Do you really need that new school building? Try this…

Imagine that you as a school principal or a teacher and have been told that your school going to get a new art / science / math (pick your subject) block. You have to define what is wanted so that the architect can start work on the design. Where do you start?

The solution may not be a new building. Well-designed furniture gives learning spaces versatility.

The solution may be well-designed furniture giving learning spaces versatility.

Merely writing out a list of different spaces and expecting them to function in the way you expect is not the place to start. Apart from anything else, the designer’s assumptions about how they function may be entirely different to yours. The fundamental question is:  Continue reading

Applying Design to Education

In designing an environment for learning we have to imagine better ways of being. The same could be said for designing education itself.

Interior of High Tech High, San Diego, California

Interior of High Tech High, San Diego, California

I once asked a student at High Tech High in San Diego, California what advice she would give those designing learning environments. She replied: “Create somewhere relaxing and bright, so you can open the windows and see out; you know, somewhere you actually want to be for 7 hours a day!”

I asked another student. The answer: “Create a building that allows students to want to learn, rather than merely containing the learning process.” Continue reading

Quiet please! We’re trying to learn.

If students cannot hear, how can they learn? Why is sound such a difficult issue in schools?

Quiet please

Is this an effective way of taking control of a problem that should not exist?

Imagine that you are sitting in the middle of the room and all you can hear is a garbled “mash” from the teacher. You don’t know what has been said, are you being asked a question? Or, given an important piece of information? If you are reasonably extrovert, you might ask someone else. If you are at all shy, you may well keep quiet to avoid looking stupid amongst your peers. Continue reading

Designing the Interaction to Create Space for Learning

Design as a process can play a greater role in the development of learning environments than merely to create the fabric of buildings and learning spaces.


With the ever more complex developments of education in terms pedagogy and application of technologies, let alone approaches to ‘delivering’ education stimulated by government policy, more creative solutions for meeting these demands need to be developed. Continue reading

Valuing School Heritage: Lisbon School Given Prestigious Award

The renovated Liceu Passos Manuel in Lisbon, a picture of which has headed this blog for 18 months, has just won a Europa Nostra Award 2013 for European Cultural Heritage. It shows how an old building can be renovated to both preserve an identity but serve a modern context.

Liceu Passos Manuel, Lisbon, Portugal renovation completed in 2008

Liceu Passos Manuel, Lisbon, Portugal renovation completed in 2008

Passos Manuel is Portugal’s oldest Liceu, originally designed in 1882 but built a little later and opened in 1911. The Europa Nostra Awards are a prestigious mark of European heritage and Europa Nostra itself is about protecting Europe’s cultural and natural heritage. The award for the conservation work on Passos Manuel is a testament to the painstaking work of its architects, husband and wife team Victor Mestre and Sofia Alexio of VMSA Architects.

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Co-creating Effective Learning Environments

I saw a television interview today with a head teacher talking about a new school that he had designed. Then as an aside he said: “… of course I designed it with the architect”. Many might worry about this – but they shouldn’t. 

Collaborative design

Good environments are not designed by just one person, but as a co-creative project with the participation of those who will use it. Indeed design is a continuous process, with the environment being adapted (re-designed) to meet changing hourly or daily needs. A good building design enables this to happen, it enables users to continue long after the architect has departed. Continue reading

Sustaining an Energy Future through Education

A sustainable school or university is about the role of education itself. But at a time when the temptation is to cut expenditure right back we still need to make sure that it supports the decisions that we still seem to be delegating to the next generation.

The Earth at night shows the  intensity of energy use

The Earth at night shows the intensity of energy use

A former colleague of mine, Yamina Saheb, Head of the Sustainable Building Centre at the International Energy Agency  (IEA) has a dream. It is that one day energy savings will be a marketable commodity – so profitable that everyone will be clamouring to buy and sell them making it totally unnecessary to impose legislation on energy requirements of products and buildings. She hopes that generation ‘Y’ will make her dream a reality. But the ability of this generation to respond depends on the role of education that we put in place. Today we are educating the policy makers for tomorrow and we need to help them make better choices.

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