Thursday, 1 August 2013

Firing the imagination for buildings, space and furniture

During the course of this week I have had the great fun of visiting three different schools in Sydney. Part of the agenda has been to see the way that other schools have imagined and built space to facilitate the learning of young people. The contexts of the schools have been very different from each other - and different again from my school. I visited a K-12 inner-city girls school, the K-2 building of another inner-city girls school and the 3-6 campus of a large suburban K-12 boys school.

Things I noticed:

  • Space has a profound shaping effect on learning. A room filled with rows of desks facing the front makes a number of statements, as contrasted to a room with grouped tables in which there is no evident front. 
  • A sense of play can pervade a space - as can a sense of order and regimen. A room filled with things to touch and move and fidget with and manipulate stimulates creativity and exploration and possibility and fun.
  • Technology needs to be mobile if it is to be integrated into normal life for young people.
  • Learning spaces need to be bigger than they used to be. Also more flexible. 
  • It is easy to say that form should follow function. It is harder to break free from traditional forms and imagine something entirely new. Rip van Winkle awaking from a hundred year sleep would still recognise most classrooms that I have visited. (Even the language of 'classroom' is revealing. Why does it need to be a room? Why a 'class'? What is a 'class' anyway? 
  • Playgrounds in Australian schools should have a water-feature
  • Land that slopes is full of potential for interesting architecture and landscaping, but probably a massive pain to build on
Did I mention the need to build with flexibility in mind? As the world continues to change, so too will the shape of education. Given the unpredictability of the future, if we are investing in buildings, it is only sensible to maximise their flexibility and the range of possible configurations of the space.

Finally, I was reminded that good architects are brilliant. So are good teachers!

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