We know that architecture influences how we feel, act, and learn. Despite this knowledge, we are still slow to adopt changes to the way we design our schools. We need to be designing schools that foster a society that will adapt well with the changes in our future, and be aware of the changes in our children and how they learn.
Anyone who has ever walked into a state capital building knows how architecture can influence how we feel. This concept is known as environmental psychology. Environmental psychologists look at how we respond to our surroundings – both indoor and outdoor.
Increasing concerns about environmental issues, the impact of pollutants, and urban crowding led to the development of this field in the 1970s. Environmental psychologist now study many aspects including: “personal space, territoriality, crowding, resource conservation, influence of culture on community, stress, learning, cognition, work environments, special populations, and violence and environment.”
New Skills for a New Economy
In the past, education’s purpose was to teach specific skills that people would use at a specific job later in life. Those days are now gone. In fact, a report by Dell estimates that most of the jobs our children will have aren’t even invented yet. Our access to knowledge, communication, and job specific training have been forever changed thanks to Youtube, social media, and the internet in general.
Adapting to the changes technology has brought to our lives and careers should be our number one focus in planning schools. Creative problem-solving has been identified as the most important skill to usher us into this new age and economy. How can we encourage that through architecture?
How Can We Change Our Schools?
Most classrooms now are still very focused on the teacher. The design of a classroom centered around the teacher diminishes the relationship the students have with each other. With this design, the teacher dominates up to 80% of the conversation.
Children need variety – something the traditional long hallway with identical classrooms is lacking. Variety helps children develop a sense of identity. In a school where they feel like an individual, they can begin to explore their creativity. Variety also helps reach most children. We do not all respond the same way to stimulants. Something that sparks joy, motivation, and creativity in one child won’t do the same for all children.
While open floor plans are dominating in homes and work environments, care should be taken with implementing this in schools. Having a place to hide and work on their own is integral to learning. Schools are highly stimulating places. Learning can be enhanced by stimulating all the senses and schools should be designed for this with a variety of textures, lights, and colors. However, overstimulation has the opposite effect on learning – thus the need for private spaces to escape.
Designing for Everyone
A report by the CDC showed that rates of developmental disabilities in children (3 to 17) increased from 5.76% to 6.99 percent from 2014 to 2016. While we still need to fully understand the reasons behind this, schools in the future will need be more inclusive for these students. Participation by these students is influenced by several factors, however the environment is a big factor. The variety needed in schools to stimulate creativity and a sense of self has to keep these students in mind with specialized sensory stimulation and private spaces that provide the ability to retreat from this stimulation.