school design

relationships that inspire learning

COVID19 is here… and so are the kids… all over the house!

There is nothing like taking something out of it’s normal environment to be able to step back and take a ‘first principles look’ at its real character. So, ironically, but very usefully, we find the schools of NSW emptying to prevent a viral spread at the same time as the Government invests in a ‘once in a lifetime’ infrastructure development to serve our community for the next and future generations.

Relationship of kids and teachers

The thing that is immediately apparent is that the relationship kids have with their teachers is the single most important inspiration and agent in education. Some ‘newfound home-schooling’ mums and dads will slam-dunk this, the rest of us have quickly reached our new limits. The curriculum, the technology, the desire to learn can all be taken out fo the physical context of ‘school’, but without the ‘teacher’, learning is suddenly a struggle! And this is not just from the absence of the skill-base or qualification of the teacher, it is also and primarily, the absence of their persona (which, indeed is only ever tuned by their qualification).

Relationship of learning and it’s environment: buildings respond and inspire

There is a magic that occurs when a great teacher is provided with places they can adapt and adjust to suit their persona. By and large, teachers are not ‘designers’, though they may demonstrate the typical designers’ broad interest in many things, that interest quickly focuses to the specific detail, while the architects’ interest tends to explore the connections and potential re-connections that could make something new. So the designer must provide more than a blank canvas, rather the parameters of a masterpiece, the outline into which the teacher and students together can ‘fill in’ the opportunities of their own intent for any given space. The buildings and spaces we create will simultaneously respond to the needs of a class and inspire the opportunities for the best possible learning.

Relationship of kids together – environments of wellbeing

When life was ordered and simple, before every social norm was challenged by a disruptor, a school could simply be a place of ‘learning’. But now it is the intensified physical gathering of kids who’s lives are lived in a cyber-confusion and who’s well-being is under constant critical fire. And so the new school environment needs to face the real challenge of becoming a place of ‘wellbeing’, where physical and mental dynamics can find enough guided expression and comfortable solace for young people to be formed and reformed in a safe place. The ‘work’ of education may more profoundly occur outside the classroom, in places of contemplation or release, in groups of varying sizes, both passive and active. These are the spaces often created between buildings as much as in them, and so architecture is again placemaking more than perfection of a disconnected object.

Relationship of buildings and their environment: life-cycle and longevity

As the buildings that constitute a school, find themselves creating an environment, they are also acted on and interact with the natural environment in which they are placed. These are buildings with a long intended life-span. They take time to

create, they take significant funds to develop, they retain a legacy of maintenance so they might serve several generations, and they draw on the earth’s finite resources. So they must be ‘sensible’ as well as experimental. Important choices of life- cycle significance must be balanced with the objective of meeting immediate needs and budgets. Such choices are not always mutually exclusive and the best architecture will synthesise both.

So, with a moment of Global social disruption we can contemplate the spaces that will inspire, inform and regenerate a generation who have already experienced more upheaval than even their parents imagined possible in a lifespan. The purpose of disruption is to revalue genuine relationship and to reshape our physical and emotional context to better inspire our future. Surely this begins in the educational environment of our children. It is not accidental that the people of integrated DESIGN group have been engaged with school design for longer than even the company has existed.

Tony McBurney

Thought leadership

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