Immediately upon getting the project, I started researching precedents, pedagogies, building technology, and many other factors that might influence the seemingly infinite possibilities when it comes to designing a school. I explored the work and teachings of some of our greatest educational thinkers, both old and new—people like Maria Montessori, Friedrich Wilhelm Froebel, and Sir Ken Robinson. I studied buildings that seemed to push the envelope on what a school could be. There were so many ideas and perspectives on what makes a great environment for learning, yet so many failed school designs in existence.
Ultimately, I asked myself how architecture could affect a child’s learning potential and behavior. These were the factors I found to be most important and what I personally recommend every parent and educator consider when evaluating schools.
Flexible, Learner-Friendly Spaces
There are few things I can think of that are more limiting to a young mind than predictable, unstimulating environments. There are so many buildings that succumb to the constraints of budgets and building codes and forego the opportunity to imagine wonderful spaces—in particular, spaces that encourage kids to explore, dream, observe and reflect. This happens more often than not and is a condition my team and I strive to change in our day-to-day practice as architects.
What I have learned is that the most successful environments, especially those that focus on learning, offer flexibility and support a diverse set of activities and needs. Schools that have classrooms that can provide for everything from larger group discussions to small-group learning opportunities or individual creative exercises tend to win out and offer the best functionality.
A more flexible space doesn’t limit the child to one environment. This may seem obvious, but many of our schools today fail to provide flexible learning environments for their students. Students need options and the ability to choose what space they learn best in, which in turn helps increase their level of engagement and learning potential.
Want to provide a focused lesson to a group of 10 students? Need to perform individualized creative projects? Those scenarios call for very different spaces but are nearly always done in the same classroom.