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Developing contemporary learning spaces in education

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Gone are the days of a one-size-fits-all schoolhouse. Today’s educational institutions aim to provide a different type of space to learn – enriching environments that inspire, stimulate and motivate and address the individual needs of students.

Designing spaces for learning is complex and ever-evolving. Beyond education, the challenge is to create areas that foster a positive environment for students, as well as provide the tools to socialise, communicate and gather information.

Helping contemporary educational facilities achieve success in this new age of learning, key themes have surfaced through research and architecture-designed structures and spaces, these include: multi-functional and flexible learning spaces, Vertical expansion, technology integration, transparency, outdoor learning and biophilic design.

Multi-functional and flexible learning spaces

Providing greater opportunity for students to learn outside the conventional classroom, many schools, colleges and universities have introduced flexible learning spaces where students can work independently or collaborate in small or large groups.

These breakout spaces can be anything from a small section of a classroom, an open area between classrooms, nooks in a hallway or an indoor/outdoor space.

An example of a multi-functional learning space is seen in St John’s Bosco College in Piara Waters, Western Australia by Santelli Architects. Here, the innovative building design focuses on shared, flexible learning spaces which supports best practice and 21st century teaching methods. Helping to achieve the blended learning space design, Lotus custom-designed Glass Sliders were chosen to keep the space fluid and encourage open communication.

Vertical expansion​

As inner-city areas become increasingly dense, often the only way for urban educational facilities to grow is to expand upwards. With land at a premium and little room to expand at ground level the trend of vertical schools is gaining momentum.

Rethinking standard school architecture, vertical educational facilities work hard to operate as the hub of the community and often incorporate multi-functional spaces to share with the local community. Contemporary vertical structures also allow urban schools to offer the same opportunities and facilities to local students that outer suburb schools benefit from such as sports areas, outdoor spaces and multi-functional hubs.

Embracing the vertical trend, Richmond High School in Victoria has created a campus covering four levels providing local students with outdoor horticulture deck, amphitheatre, courtyards and state-of-the-art teaching spaces and common areas.

Technology integration

Essential in the 21st century classroom, 64 per cent of Australian schools are working towards using mostly online resources and making greater use of technology, according to Pearson Education.

With this number continually growing, educational facilities are now specifically designed to integrate technology into every aspect of learning by installing wide-reaching Wi-Fi and ensuring easy access to screens, projectors, sound systems and power outlets both indoors and outdoors.

With learning not just confined to the classroom anymore and online connectivity not just confined to computer labs, wiring an entire campus is a must and widens the sphere of learning and promotes independent learning. From common areas and hallways to playgrounds and sports fields, learning has migrated allowing constant accessibility to the school’s network, teachers and peers.

Transparency

More than a design principle, architectural transparency – the use of glass windows, walls and partitions, offers a myriad of advantages including natural lighting and encouraging students to connect with the outdoors. Transparent design also emphasises clear lines of sight making it an ideal safety and security measure. With no areas to hide, bullying and intruder opportunities are reduced and vulnerable students feel safe.

Opening a line of sight into adjacent spaces also encourages communal learning and easy observation for educators. This sense of collaboration also allows students to gain inspiration from the work of others, the outdoors and creates an open forum for learning.

An example of architectural transparency greatly changing the use of an educational facility can be seen at Flinders University. Designed by architect Woods Bagot, Lotus Glas-STAX was added to the front of the older building creating an open, airy space, whilst seamlessly connecting the interior to the exterior.

Outdoor learning

Breaking down the walls of traditional classroom design, outdoor learning spaces create a more engaging learning situation and encourages exploration and socialisation – with the added benefits of natural light and fresh air.

Research suggests that outdoor education and work areas are ideal for improving creativity and reducing stress. In the case of education, outdoor areas can greatly facilitate hands-on learning, with some spaces being designed to be extensions of the curriculum and include ponds, rainwater tanks, flower beds and fruit and vegetable patches. Such additions give students direct interaction with nature and gain authentic experience with complex biological concepts like photosynthesis and osmosis.

Biophilic design

Biophilic design can be seen through the use of natural materials such as wood, and using organic and biomorphic shapes and forms. It also utilises live plants, earthy textures and colours, natural lighting and ventilation.

Ideal for educational facilities in dense urban environments, incorporating biophilic design can help students achieve a sense of wellbeing without outdoor spaces.

Source: Lotus Folding Doors

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