Learning is a continuous process. It’s a skill that one is really ever taught. I don’t recall my parents teaching me how to learn, maybe yeah how to walk, talk or cycle. Learning is a skill that you experience daily. You learn something new every single day; hummingbirds are the only birds able to fly backwards, the gaming industry is on a significant economic boost (might need a switch in career) or that architects spend more time on coordinating between contractor, client and engineer than actually putting the pen down to paper. Learning is inevitable in the day to day. Schools are specialised centres for learning; schools help in learning basic skills like human interactions, team development and develop a mind of their own. How important is the design of a school that would help a child learn effortlessly?
Designing a school is no small task. A school has to encourage the students to be curious, question, learn and understand the learning process. Children are naturally inquisitive, they have to venture out and explore. Hence a school design which accommodates only sitting at their desks from 9 to 2, Monday through Saturday becomes redundant. A built space affects the users within, regardless of the function the built space provides. I quote Amos Rapoport, “Each setting thus communicates, through a whole set of cues are meant to elicit appropriate emotions, interpretations, behaviours, and transactions by setting up the appropriate situations and contexts”. Therefore the physical setting has a direct connection to one’s emotional being.
So how exactly can architecture help in learning? Here you can address two things
- Can architecture create a space which inspires children to learn
- Can architecture help children learn
For the first question, let me explain using the help of two different schools; METI Handmade school by Anna Heringer and Eike Roswag and Fuji Kindergarten by Tezuka Architects. Both schools are placed in different contexts, have used different building techniques and designed for different user groups. What is common between them is the incorporation of an element keeping in mind the behaviour of children. The METI handmade school accommodates a “cave”, an earthen mound where children are encouraged to use as their personal space. The cave has earthen texture to help calm down children, and this space can be used by children to play, to relax and to discuss amongst them. The idea of the cave is interesting as it provides a private space for the children, where they belong, feel free and be themselves without any external pressures or factors. It is important as a human being to own a space, be it one’s desk where you work or a shade under a tree. In this project, the personal space was provided as an earthen cave.
The Fuji kindergarten takes into consideration the child’s innate nature to run. The terrace of the building forms an endless path for the children to run, jump and play. The building is designed to have broken down all physical constraints which are normally placed on an educational building. This allows the children to explore, encouraging independence and freedom. The boundary between inside and outside is blurred using sliding glass doors, which remain open most of the year. The children move between the outside and inside effortlessly. The connect with the outside is critical for a child in their early years as they are curious and cannot just sit at one place throughout the day. The freedom to run around and explore helps calm them and also improve their learning process.
The second question deals with architecture directly helping a student learn and understanding the learning process. Why is this necessary? In rural settlements, the availability of learning resources are scarce and the sole source of teaching is through school teachers. The lack of school teachers in government schools has led to a decline in children attending school. BALA or Building as Learning Aids by Kabir Vachpayee is an example for stepping up the learning-teaching environment. Each element of the learning space is modified to serve a secondary purpose- to help a child learn. How is that done? The door having angles drawn on the floor acts like a protractor, helping a child understand the different angles. The window grills act as pre-writing exercise and help in understanding fractions. BALA is a plug-in to an already built environment. The building and the environment then take up the role of teaching children.
The environment in which a child grows up is as critical as what they learn growing up. Studies have found children growing up in a free environment has shown more creativity and confidence to go through life. The physical setting thus plays an important role in the growth of a child. Hence it’s critical to design a learning environment which allows the children to be free and helps them learn.