The Design of Learning Spaces: Architecture as a Teaching Tool

Spaces for children allow you to create architecture that is in many ways unformulated architecture. Spaces are reacted to by children completely spontaneously. Dorte Mandrup says that it is almost like an enhanced architecture. This implies that design can help to foster critical thinking, encourage autonomy, responsibility, and help forge the future citizens. The educational system and its spatial expression has not changed much over the past 100 years. However, as information becomes more accessible, the emphasis is shifting from the accumulation to the nurturing of critical thinking. New teaching methods allow for architectural experimentation. This article examines the effects of space on learning in primary and secondary education. It also discusses how architecture can be used as a teaching tool.

Xinsha Primary School BY 11ARCHITECTURE. Image © ACF

While the pandemic demonstrated the importance of in-person learning and collectivity, another factor that can influence education is space. The outcome of education is affected by design decisions. This was demonstrated by a University of Salford study in 2015. It found that classrooms well-designed could increase learning progress by as much as 16% over a single year. Light, sound, temperature and air quality were all evaluated. These factors together formed the parameter of physical comfort and ownership, flexibility, connection, and individualisation, which is also known as stimulation. Study results showed that children who feel connected to nature have better mental plasticity. Children also feel more responsible when they have ownership over their space. The most important influence on learning is the impact of the many factors that make up physical comfort.

Hankou Junior High School Library . Image © Hey! Cheese

Surprisingly hallway design and other common areas have less impact on learning outcomes than the classroom. This is because it is where the children spend the majority of their time, which has the greatest influence on their educational progress. It is also the most neglected space in architectural experimentation. Research has shown that children who are exposed to low levels of visual distraction do better academically than students who are exposed to high levels of visual distraction. This highlights the importance for moderation when designing learning spaces. High levels of spatial complexity can also hinder learning and cause distractions. However, spaces that are differentiated support collaboration. Learning through hands-on experiences improves the retention of information, and children are more likely to engage with the topic. Therefore, outdoor spaces that encourage experimentation are a great aid in the education process.

Architecture has the potential to help create learning environments that encourage collaboration, problem-solving and deep understanding. Learning buildings that are positive in their impact must consider the function of space, include multipurpose spaces, and maximize each area’s potential for learning. This could be done by making hallways extensions to classrooms, or using staircases as amphitheatres. Modern educational buildings must be adaptable and flexible to accommodate changing society. This will allow for multiple teaching methods to be implemented over their lifetime.

Tezuka Architects' Fuji Kindergarten . Image © Katsuhisa Kida

Learning conducive design also includes outdoor spaces. Some projects include teaching moments in the natural environment adjacent to the school. This is the case with LINK Arkitektur, a yet unbuilt design for a rain-friendly school in Gothenburg. Other elements are becoming essential parts of the educational vision, such as the award-winning Fuji Kindergarten from Tezuka Architects.