‘School is a building which has four walls with tomorrow inside!’– Lon Watters
Architecture of Schools
Forces outside the curriculum shape classroom design to create the best learning environment. With academics, administrators, and open learning trying to grasp how design affects learning, classrooms have evolved significantly from one-room schoolhouses. For blended learning to be effective, it was understood that the system architecture of schooling and the physical architecture of schools itself must be rethought from the start.
Dating back to the open-plan movement of the 1970s, any activity was permitted anywhere in the building. A “universal” space could be made available for various activities. Unfortunately, those universal spaces were not conducive to any activity, so they were quickly abandoned or modified. In addition, the freedom sought from the cellular classrooms was not accompanied by any technological advancements.
As opposed to this, blended learning incorporates advances in digital technology that have significantly impacted other industries into the educational environment. The goal of designing an intrinsic climate was not to create an infinitely flexible space. Providing purposefully designed rooms for different types of learning together in one ample space was the goal. It is, therefore, the hypothesis of the 1970s movement.
It is challenging to change the traditional educational ecosystem because of its inertia. Every ecosystem is made up of interconnected parts that depend on one another. Often, it is difficult for any part of the ecosystem to see how radical changes can occur across the entire system.
One part of the ecosystem that directly challenges architects is the extent of codification and standardization ingrained in district policies and city building codes. Since the principles only referenced the egg-crate school, no one knew how to use the rules. Therefore, the major trap to avoid is the impulse to design schools literally by the existing books. The books need to be edited for the 21st century. A school district should first rethink how the school space can be designed to better support learning.
The Present and its Curves
The educational industry is just beginning to respond to the promise of the digital revolution, so it has a long and wide way to go. While most opponents of the digital era condemn students putting their heads on screens, most insiders know that the real gold lies in the more effective use of teachers’ time in face-to-face interactions with students.
To remediate misunderstandings or reinforce newly acquired concepts, teachers will gather students in small groups based on data collected from their online work instead of instructing large groups of students with a wide range of talents and interests. Teachers will no longer have to teach “to the middle” of a group of students, as they will work with every member of their class. The approach is most useful in urban areas with a wide distribution of talent. It has been masked for years by the success of selective enrolment schools that extensive group direct instruction has its limitations.
Think about a typical classroom structure today: neat rows and columns with a teacher up front telling the students what to do and how to think. The World Economic Forum (WEF) states that everyone needs soft skills, such as solving problems, critical thinking, creativity, people management, coordinating with others, etc., to survive an automated future. Tech skills require a must in the 21st century, while soft skills are a ‘plus’ that will enable graduates to stand out in the sea of others with cookie-cutter degrees.
Today’s school and classroom design is a relic of the past, a physical manifestation of the needs and expectations of the 19th century. Despite being born over 120 years after the second industrial revolution, it isn’t easy to understand how today’s learners thrive in factory-modeled educational settings built to churn workers rather than inspire innovators. School design and educational outcomes may not be directly correlated. However, they have a strong relationship, and it’s more than simply speculative.
IBI Nightingale and the University of Salford, both in the U.K., conducted a 2012 study. They found that the placement of rooms, HVAC systems, acoustics, and furniture could affect students’ academic progress by 25 percent during a year. Further, The Holistic Evidence and Design (HEAD) study conducted in the U.K. in 2015 found that school infrastructure and environmental factors can explain 16 percent of the variation of academic performance of primary school students.
Designers should take note of this as a conclusion. ‘’It is essential to specify furniture when designing a building,’’ says Caroline Paradise, director of research and development at IBI Nightingale. The results of this process can have lasting effects on student performance. It is complex and expensive to change.
A Prospective Future
SCHOOLS will not be one size fits all. They will have specialized and unique physical spaces. By replacing large monolithic networks, schools will be part of smaller, more nimble networks that will collaborate to unlock learning for students through highly personalized education. In the future, there will be industries that track the effectiveness of individual schools and the performance of their networks. The school will no longer be a standalone building but a part of the community. These buildings will be multipurpose and shed the image of government buildings meant to awe. Instead, they will be engaging structures that stimulate creativity.
Defining a New Vision
Integrating landscape and buildings further is an aspect of urban development that could improve how the community experiences architecture. Green space in buildings allows occupants to interact more directly with nature and make it easier for them to connect with nature. To integrate nature with architecture can enhance a building’s self-regulation, energy efficiency, and overall performance. Introducing these tools into classrooms provides a way to motivate and engage students in a new way, rapidly replacing (old school) didactic/instructional methods. A space that reflects nature can contribute towards student learning by framing the educational experience. Building materials and interior fabrics and the size, shape, and aspect of rooms can improve the learning environment for students.
For effective integration of student engagement and coherence in classrooms, it is essential to balance technology with nature. Simple interventions such as the option to open or close the window can help adjust the immediate environment in a classroom, supporting health and wellbeing. In an ever-evolving field, studies on the relationship between indoor-outdoor space and academic performance suggest that more contact that is natural is associated with improved performance. Research has shown that students who have access to more natural light in the classroom perform better academically.
Having a design that focuses on the user’s overall experience, including their experience as students, educators, staff, and members of the community, can have positive outcomes. Technology enhancing human capabilities while at the same time engaging the natural aspect of human endurance is what we expect from our upcoming students shortly!
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Lakritz, T. (2019). How schools have changed over the last 80 years – Insider. [online] Insider. Available at: https://www.insider.com/old-school-vintage-classroom-photos-evolution-2018-5.
www.architectmagazine.com. (n.d.). https://www.architectmagazine.com/technology/products/a-continuing-education-the-history-of-classroom-design_o. [online] Available at: https://www.architectmagazine.com/technology/products/a-continuing-education-the-history-of-classroom-design_o.