i have been fortunate to both design new learning spaces in a major school renovation, and to see dozens of examples of new and re-tooled learning spaces. A virtual meeting with a pioneering school group yesterday to talk about a new school building, gave me the chance to think about the boundary conditions I would suggest for architects designing for spaces that support and align with deeper learning practices. Here are some bullets from my comments:
- Design has to follow pedagogy; teach our architects what lies at the roots of deeper learning or they will repurpose old drawings from schools of the past.
- Most learning requires very little in the way of specialized space. The exceptions that come to mind are some physical sciences (fume hoods, gas lines, etc), arts, and physical education.
- When designing, start with as few structural boundaries as possible, and then only add walls when you can justify them from a pedagogical point of view.
- Adapting spaces for use by children of different ages can mostly be accommodated with different or flexible furniture.
- Space usage is both fungible (can be used for different activities) and negotiable (how space is used can be determined by adult and student co-workers on an hourly or daily basis).
- Allow for movement, noise, and a bit of chaos. Noise attenuation is both a matter of design/insulation and practices, and the later is more important.
- Writable surfaces allow active learning to be highly visible.
Perhaps most importantly, buildings last a long time; 50 years is not an unreasonable design expectation for the hard shell. The purpose of physical school buildings over the next few decades will increasingly evolve from “where we learn” to “where we meet”, which is a huge difference. “Schools” will increasingly be portals into a global learning network that is both physical and virtual. They will be a critical point of connection from students to launch into the broader community, and a place for the community to participate in teaching of the next generation. Plan for it now!!