“Education is movement from darkness to light” – Allan Bloom.

Learning is an important part of our life. It shapes the way we are as a person and the way we see the world. A person is learning throughout their life. But the foundation of education that is laid in our minds when we enter school is the most important. The time spent in school is often memorable for people as it is the first step they take towards being beyond the comfort of their home. When we spend so much time in a particular space, the space also influences us. We become associated with our school building not only as a place but also as a space.

Comfort and Safety

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Loop kindergarten school in China has curved informal spaces for students to spend free time in with a variety of colours and lighting._©Ruijing Photo- dezeen.com

Today most of the primary learning spaces for students are classrooms. A well-designed indoor space can boost concentration among students. When designed with good ventilation, good light, and breathable materials, classrooms can provide students and teachers with a comfortable learning environment.

Physical features of learning spaces can stimulate emotions, create a sense of security, and prepare the students to learn. We can see many notable school buildings having architecture where the spaces are designed around a circular open space. By surrounding it with the school itself, the courtyard becomes a place of interaction while still being completely safe at the same time. Research has found that our minds are more accepting of free-flowing curves rather than straight and angular lines. We have a greater sense of well-being and a feeling of calmness when in circular rather than angular environments.

Creating a selectively absorptive boundary also influences the school campus. It should be kept such that it provides a visual connection to the outside world while at the same time protecting the children. We can see such an example in the Lycee schorge secondary school by architect Francis Kéré. A series of wooden screens surround the classrooms like a transparent fabric. For the spaces immediately surrounding the classrooms, this secondary façade acts as a shading element. While protecting the classrooms, they also help to create a series of safe, informal gathering spaces for the students.

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The wooden screens in the Lycee schorge secondary school by architect Francis Kéré._© Iwan Baan- archdaily.com

Focus and connection

Interior architecture and internal features of learning spaces can either help students focus their attention on studying or prevent them from giving full attention to learning. Desirable designs consist of having unmatched entrance areas and quiet private and public spaces that improve a sense of mutual support and unity with special attention to the colours. Design characteristics such as poor acoustics, poor ventilation, and insufficient lighting undermine learning. Today’s school technology represents a quantum leap forward; it’s at once worldwide, invisible, personal, and mobile. It is essential to connect the school building to the latest technological facilities, which are an important part of the world we live in today. These interventions, when done thoughtfully, can help the students learn in new ways and keep them in pace with advancements.

Schools are versions of contemporary society, and norms and regulations are presented in their design and use. In the classroom, this is realized through artifacts that regulate behavior and access, such as desks and chairs, signs, and locked or unlocked doors. Classrooms have strong identities due to subject-specific articles that are foregrounded in the classroom. For example, a classroom for performing arts provides a stage and space for the students to explore performance, or a classroom involving collaborative activities which have seating provided for the same. This helps the students, as well as the teachers, absorb themselves in the learning process better, as they become aware that the classroom is created for that particular purpose.

Spaces and creativity

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Yoshino School in Japan creates an element of adventure and interest as children like to explore the elliptical slope rather than a flat ground._©Katsuhisa Kida- archdaily.com

For younger kids, especially toddlers who spend so much time in school for the first time after home, the school building plays a role in their initial growth and development. Spaces that offer exposure to a variety of stimuli, like colour, texture, light and darkness, volume, etc., help these kids learn just from being there. Schools for kindergarten students which offer adventure and allow the kids to explore while also learning at the same time certainly have a better effect on the students’ development.

A playschool in Goa designed by architect Gerard da Cunha is a great example of a space where the kids are allowed to explore and discover on their own. In each classroom, there are three areas-an outdoor teaching area, an indoor area, and a dollhouse, a fantasy house where the teacher is not allowed! It is fun to see classrooms with tiny entrances and a slide between the two levels of the building, which is especially exciting for a child.

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Nisha’s Playschool in Goa incorporates a slide to connect two levels_©Harsh Shah- taoarchitecture.com

Learning and nature

Nature is also an important factor when school buildings are involved. Studies have shown that incorporating plants into the classroom improves the grades of middle school students and makes students and faculty more comfortable. India’s traditional schooling systems, such as the gurukul system, focus on learning through nature.

Nature allows children to explore, observe, and listen, which unknowingly teaches us valuable lessons. Spending time in and around nature has also been proven useful to reduce stress, anxiety and depression in young students. It helps them connect and become more actively engaged with their surroundings.

Letting nature into classrooms is also vital. According to research, it is said that “The more light you let in, the more successful you will be” In addition to more success, natural light is said to make people happier, help with stress, and combat illness as well. By finding ways to allow more natural light in, architects can design a better environment for the students learning and the people working in a school building. Aside from natural light, creating a light-filled space can improve studying and meetings, for example by creating a wall of windows.

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RBANMS School Extension school in Bengaluru is nestled among huge tree canopies_©Abhishek Dasgupta- archdaily.com

Building a community

Students would want to feel like they belong to the school – and that’s something that great design can accomplish. When creating spaces for a school building, architects should look at developing areas that are convenient for students to enjoy. It is of great importance to students to have places where they can study by themselves, or with friends, or maybe just relax. At the same time, places to safely store laptops and personal items in between lectures, attractive lobbies with comfortable and adaptable furniture, as well as large seating areas where students can meet in bigger study or friend groups will help to bolster their attitude and loyalty on campus.

Research shows that students tend to spend time in open or semi-open spaces beyond classrooms when they have free time. Schools where students, as well as teachers, are provided with such spaces, where they have a choice, help them connect to the school building. These spaces help them interact and make friends, and build a family in their school.

Sangam Elementary School in Rajasthan has an open stepped space decorated with graffiti for community events and interactions_©Umang Shah- archdaily.com

References:

  1. Ariani, M.G. and Mirdad, F. (2015). The Effect of School Design on Student Performance. International Education Studies, [online] 9(1), p.175. Available at: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1086689.pdf.
  2. ‌Steelcase. (2015). How Classroom Design Affects Engagement. [online] Available at: https://www.steelcase.com/research/articles/how-classroom-design-affects-student-engagement/.
  3. Montessori Nature. (2017). The Many Benefits of Learning in Nature. [online] Available at: https://www.montessorinature.com/benefits-nature-learning/.
  4. ‌Spaces, C.D.I. (2021). How Classroom Design Affects Student Performance. [online] CDI Spaces. Available at: https://cdispaces.ca/how-classroom-design-affects-student-performance/.
  5. ResearchGate. (n.d.). (PDF) Learning Environment: The Influence of School and Classroom Space on Education. [online] Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/282348767_Learning_Environment_The_Influence_of_School_and_Classroom_Space_on_Education.
  6. Hipkiss, A.M. (2018). A classroom is a classroom is a classroom? A study of the affordance of classroom design for classroom interaction. Didactic classroom studies: A potential research direction. [online] Available at: https://www.academia.edu/64729405/A_classroom_is_a_classroom_is_a_classroom_A_study_of_the_affordance_of_classroom_design_for_classroom_interaction [Accessed 16 Apr. 2022].
  7. Alexander, C. (1990). A pattern language. München: Fachhochsch., Fachbereich Architektur.
  8. Berkowicz, J. and Myers, A. (2018). How Architecture Affects Learning (Opinion). [online] Education Week. Available at: https://www.edweek.org/leadership/opinion-how-architecture-affects-learning/2018/04.
  9. Duncan, S. (2021). Heart Centered Classroom Design. [online] https://www.researchgate.net/. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/349059211_Heart_Centered_Classroom_Design [Accessed 12 Apr. 2022].

Images:

  1. Kida K., Yoshino Nursery School and Kindergarten, Tezuka Architects [Photograph](archdaily.com)
  2. Ruijing Photo, Loop Kindergarten by SAKO Architects [Photograph](dezeen.com)
  3. Dasgupta A., RBANMS School Extension, Mathew and Ghosh Architects [Photograph](dezeen.com)
  4. Shah Y., Gerard Da Cunha’s Architectural gems., [Photograph](taoarchitecture.com)
  5. Shah U., Sangam Elementary School, SferaBlu Architects[Photograph](archdaily.com)
  6. Baan I. Lycee Schorge Secondary School, Kéré Architecture [Photograph] (archdaily.com)
Author

An observant and wandering soul, Gandhali has always been fascinated by the power that words can hold. While exploring architecture, she developed an interest to learn about spaces and the life in them, and about seeing architecture through words. She strives to be able to express through her words too.

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