The Design of Learning Spaces: Architecture as a Teaching Tool

The Design of Learning Spaces: Architecture as a Teaching Tool
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Erlev School by Arkitema. Image © Niels Nygaard

With spaces for children, “you have the opportunity to create architecture that in many ways is unformulated architecture. Children react to spaces completely spontaneously. It is almost an enhanced architecture”, says Dorte Mandrup. The implication here is that design can contribute to forming critical thinking, encouraging autonomy, responsibility and help forge future citizens. For the most part, the educational system and its spatial expression haven’t changed significantly in the last hundred years. Nonetheless, with access to information becoming ubiquitous, the focus is slowly moving from the accumulation of information to nurturing critical thinking, and new teaching methods open up a new area of architectural experimentation. The following explores the impact of space on learning, specifically in primary and secondary education, discussing how architecture could aid the educational process, becoming a teaching tool.

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Xinsha Primary School BY 11ARCHITECTURE. Image © ACF

The pandemic undoubtedly proved the importance of collectivity and in-person learning, but another important and often overlooked factor influencing education is space. Design decisions have implications for the outcome of the educational process, as shown by a 2015 study from the University of Salford which concluded that well-designed classrooms could boost learning progress by up to 16% in a single year. The factors evaluated were light, sound, temperature, air quality and links to nature, together forming the parameter of physical comfort, ownership, flexibility and connection, defined together as individualisation and complexity and colour described as stimulation. The study found that connection with nature improves mental plasticity, and when children feel ownership for hs space, it helps them develop feelings of responsibility. Moreover, the array of factors making up the physical comfort have the most significant impact on learning.

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Hankou Junior High School Library . Image © Hey! Cheese

Surprisingly, the design of hallways and other common areas matters less in the learning outcome, as is the classroom, where children spend most of the time at school, which has the most significant impact on the educational progress. This is also the space often overlooked in architectural experimentation. Other research suggests that children exposed to low visual distraction perform better academically than those in high visual distraction spaces, thus highlighting the need for moderation in the design of learning spaces. Similarly, high levels of spatial complexity impair the learning process, becoming a distraction; however, differentiated spaces support collaboration. Hands-on learning, through sensory experiences, improves retention of information and increases the children’s engagement with the topic; therefore, spaces that encourage experimentation, particularly in outdoor settings, are an aid to the educational process.


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Interior Wellbeing: The Design Of Educational Spaces

As the educational model is shifting towards more diverse teaching methods, architecture has a significant opportunity to create those learning environments conducive to collaboration, problem-solving, and deep understanding. Educational buildings that have a positive impact on learning carefully consider functional distribution, incorporate multipurpose spaces and maximise each area’s potential to contribute to learning, be it by widening hallways to become extensions of the classrooms, using stairs as amphitheatres or using roofs as gardens and playgrounds. Adaptability and spatial flexibility are paramount for contemporary educational buildings, as they need to keep up with societal changes, facilitating the implementation of multiple teaching approaches along their lifespan.

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Tezuka Architects' Fuji Kindergarten . Image © Katsuhisa Kida

There is a new understanding that design for children and that of learning spaces, in particular, should allow the young to experience the space apparently unguided, an action that promotes autonomy and responsibility. Outdoor spaces are also a feature of learning conducive design, with some projects incorporating teaching moments in the landscape adjacent to the school, like in the case LINK Arkitektur’ yet unbuilt design for a rain-friendly school near Gothenburg, and others becoming an essential part of the educational vision as is the case of the award-winning Fuji Kindergarten by Tezuka Architects. The architecture of educational spaces has the potential of positively impacting the learning process and the subject is constantly drawing the interest of psychologists, teaching experts and architects alike. The topic deserves further exploration and review of the existent body of research, in order to pinpoint more design strategies that encourage learning.

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Cite: Andreea Cutieru. "The Design of Learning Spaces: Architecture as a Teaching Tool" 19 Nov 2021. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/972189/the-design-of-learning-spaces-architecture-as-a-teaching-tool> ISSN 0719-8884

Erlev School by Arkitema. Image © Niels Nygaard

学习空间的设计:以建筑作为教学工具

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