ICT learning in schools

There is little doubt that ICT is changing pedagogy radically and that existing schools will invest as and when technology advances. This goes hand in hand with the need for more flexible learning spaces, and a new approach to school design. The novelty and control this technology allows makes it particularly attractive to boys, who often have a more sensory approach to learning than girls. If it is used properly, ICT and the architecture of new schools have a fantastic potential to turn disaffected students onto education. This was not always the case.

Looking back to the first computers, the novelty value was significant. Architect Stuart Piercy remembers racing his father down the stairs each morning to get to the Sinclair first. For Stuart however, the computer only captured his imagination when the first 3-d games were introduced in 1983. That was by way of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, which became a best seller because of its suitability for gaming. That first computer proved to be a much more revolutionary piece of kit than our black and white TV set had been twenty or so years previously. TV merely presented the dramas that were actually taking place (often far away) in a particular form (in that peculiarly restrained language of BBC science). Although initially exciting, as one grew older events such as the moonshots no longer fascinated because it was impossible to interact with what was happening, and TV became dull. It could never be interactive like computer games and the world wide web. In a similar way to the interaction children experience when using computer games, promoting a sense of control by each individual is a fundamental aspect of the new ICT enhanced learning strategies. Exploration is the key idea.

However it is fair to say that it has only been during the past three years that the full potential to use computer modelling as a creative tool has come into widespread use for architects and designers. During Stuart Piercy’s architectural studies, the course work was limited to sketching and drawing traditionally, with few opportunities for 3-d modelling, since the university architecture department had little or no 3-d software. So although the computer was a constant in his life from the age of 9, it did not become an educational tool until relatively late. As a consequence he believes that his childhood was never dominated by the computer, rather he developed his childhood interests within the real landscape much more than the electronic landscape: ‘I suspect that today it is much more addictive, the games are formulated by rules and relationships which are similar to the traditional goodies and baddies in my real time games.’

Computer studies were part of the educational curriculum from the age of 13 at Stuart’s school. A growing knowledge and understanding of its potential were part of his school’s activities during these formative years, however teachers were to a certain extent intimidated by the use of computers in education. This issue delayed its effective use in the educational curriculum. Today, it is clear that the effectiveness of ICT is very much related to the teacher’s ingenuity rather than to huge amounts of investment in expensive kit. The head of computer studies at the Docklands Community School in London explained that teachers have to learn to use computer teaching technology because the pupils expect it; often when a teacher who is new to the use of interactive white boards is presenting his or her first lesson, pupils themselves will demonstrate how it is done. They have to get used to it quickly, and pupils enable this to happen, acting as teaching mentors to the teachers themselves.

Today, the technology available in schools is evolving to a higher plain and at the same time becoming more affordable so that in theory everything from distance learning to video production (of lessons) in real time is possible. This will enable teaching and learning to be pre­prepared and tailored to the needs of a group, with the teacher’s role one of supporting individual children. Today, cross-curricular links between PE, ICT and maths are widespread in more enlightened schools particularly at secondary school level. In the future, other cross-curricular links will develop so that learning becomes more integrated into the everyday lives of children. This means that students who have difficulty recognizing the academic value of school, can learn surreptitiously outside formal lessons. The architecture of the school and the architecture of its ICT systems (and to a certain extent the school-home interface) must be fully integrated so that each is mutually supportive.

In the future it is likely that the relationship between a charismatic teacher and his or her students will change as well. Larger teaching groups in lecture theatre format may prove to be a more economical approach to certain types of teaching at secondary school level. Digital technology enables this to happen now, however the architecture of most school buildings is generally neither flexible enough or suitably equipped with a variety and range of computer compatible spaces to enable this to happen. We can predict that in the not too distant future, teaching will take place in a variety of group sizes ranging from 90 students through to the traditional 30 pupils per class, to smaller group seminars and one on one special needs supported groups (Plate 16). ICT will help to provide education in a form which is again more tailored to the needs of individual pupils. A dialogue between ICT and architecture enables this to happen in appropriate settings, and the design of new school buildings, particularly at secondary school level should in future provide managed flexibility to accommodate change.

Of course it is possible to overestimate the significance of new technology and traditional teaching will always be important. However, the designers of Alsop’s Exemplar School set out to














Figure 8.4

The future of learning in a digital culture: conceptual diagram.

create a building which optimizes the possibilities of ICT enhanced learning everywhere.20 Classrooms are designed in such a way that they can be reconfigured to accommodate different forms of learning strategies. The school has breakout areas throughout, which can be used by pupils discreetly between lessons so that learning and personal development is a continuous process, enabled by the environment and through the student’s own wireless laptop. Even the outside areas have safe enclosed ‘pocket gardens’ where students can sit and use their laptops. Each breakout area has discreet supervision by way of strategically positioned staff offices or properly policed video camera surveillance (see Plate 16a).

As stated previously, one of the main benefits of ICT is that it allows students to make cross­curricular links in almost every subject area. For example, in music lessons ICT enables students to advance quickly without compromising on the
theory of music. Audiomulch, a sample-based studio environment in wide use within UK schools, can be introduced at GCSE (for pupils aged 16) and used on any computer with a reasonable sound card and headphones, and it doesn’t need a musical keyboard. Although traditional musical performance spaces are still required, the technology means that musical creativity can in theory take place anywhere in the school.20 This possibility was exploited within the Alsop exemplar scheme with acoustically treated breakout spaces where students can spend time between lessons sampling and exploring musical effects digitally.

Just got a Tutortext on my phone, reminding me where the Human Geography class is being streamed from today – Beijing, cool! It’s great talking with kids in cities on the other side of the world, we did a course last term with a class in Sydney and we’re still in touch, emailing and stuff

Oh no there’s my mum, she’ll have just dropped

off my baby sitter in the school creche where they

train to be nursery nurses.21

Fred Seddon of the Open University in Milton Keynes sees collaboration between schools as a key to understanding the global future for our children. Pupils e-mail text and Midifile ideas for composition back and forth and pieces are built up in dialogue. He ran a project linking Lord Grey Secondary School in Milton Keynes with one in Bergen, Norway with great success. This helped to develop further subject areas such as geography and economics, with exchange visits a by-product of the initial electronic dialogue relating to musical composition. ICT enables international links to be established and maintained – an important added dimension to education within the global village.

ICT is an area, which if used properly can be made to relate strongly to what is happening in industry. Design Technology is a key curriculum area in the use of advanced technology within the UK educational curriculum. Jonathan Boyle, a D&T teacher at Walsall Academy in the English Midlands, uses the school’s Intranet to place all of the information he wants his students to know about. He uses video clips to create a multi media file of complex skills, such as modelling in poly-plastics and vacuum forming. He also uses ‘Camtasia’, a programme that records the teacher’s voice and everything on the teacher’s screen as the lesson progresses. Subsequently this is made available to students who may need to follow the lesson at a slower pace or were, for whatever reason, absent from the lesson.

Rhys Errington Evans, ICT coordinator and head of D&T at Ysgol Dinas Bran Llangollen in Wales has tried the combination of Autodesk Inventor and Rhino software. Inventor produces excellent 3-d solid models, which students may develop intuitively. Students can open and modify Inventor files in Rhino and then export them back to Inventor, giving a greatly enhanced workflow, thus improving the student’s productivity. This is an area where ICT is making a significant input to build and maintain enthusiasm in difficult subject areas. In the long term this will help to create a more enhanced skills base in areas such as UK manufacturing where survival depends on its ability go upmarket. This is viewed as a fundamental requirement, as most basic manufacturing processes are priced out of western economies to the lower wage economies of Asia and China.22

A recently completed project at the Yewlands Secondary School in Sheffield, UK develops and extends its existing design technology department, which is currently an antiquated workshop space. This is an environment which was created for the old steel bashing technologies of the previous century. From the Industrial Revolution, Sheffield was a world centre of steel production but has all but lost its industrial base over the past 25 years, largely because it failed to develop new technology ahead of its cheaper international competitors. This reality was at the forefront of the thinking behind the Classroom of the Future. In 2002, the school won funding to invest in a new building which would transform the old ‘dirty’ workshop environment into a clean state-of-the-art design laboratory with ICT at its heart.

The designers explain the scheme in the following way: unlike a traditional classroom where knowledge is presented by a single teacher to a group of 30 children under a continuous supervisory presence, in Yewlands’ Classroom of the Future learning will be controlled virtually. Pupils can work on projects at their own pace and to a certain extent in their own way. The usual classroom log-jam where 20 pupils want to use a single piece of equipment at the same time will not happen. An essential aspect of this learning environment is to encourage students to develop projects laterally; there is no single predetermined sequence in design, rather it is up to students to explore in their own way and at their own pace using a lot of intuition and creativity along the way, as opposed to predetermined rules and dogmatic formulae. The student’s awareness of a coherent process is viewed as being as important as the end product.

Head of D&T at Yewlands, John Innes, who helped to develop a lot of the thinking for the new building, ultimately wanted the Classroom of the Future to provide individual pupils or small clusters

ICT learning in schools

Figures 8.5 & 8.6

Yewlands Design and Technology Classroom of the Future. Learning largely takes place via computer teacher, enabling students to develop projects at their own pace in a spacious, post-industrial clean workshop setting (Figure 8.5). Presentation and discussion take place in small seminar groups. (Figure 8.6. Photos: Mark Dudek.)

the opportunity to pursue their tasks in different learning and activity zones spread around the department. He describes the concept in the following way:

Learning is not sequential, rather it builds up as different activity areas become available. There will be no queuing; pupils wishing to use a piece of equipment already in use will know this from the virtual plan of the department on their monitors. They can go on to another task until the equipment they need is free. This process challenges them to think hard and be creative about their projects, there is no right and wrong way to design technology in the modern world… the main priority is to encourage joined up thinking which is innovative. For example the new BMW group wide system called ‘mechatronics’ is an attempt to fuse mechanics, hydraulics and electronics in future cars.

Innes goes on to explain how a central space, or what he calls ‘the stage’, will be used to brief the entire class of 22 pupils at the beginning of each lesson. It will have a large electronic white board and be capable of fully closing itself off from other areas of the Design Technology Department for specific presentations. Here, the teacher will brief the whole class (for only twenty minutes) and only once during the two or so weeks of the project.

He or she will set out a range of menus from which individual pupils can draw down required information to carry out the task. Sources for this information will range from the Internet to pre­prepared teacher’s notes and video clips. Pupils will sit at portable fold-out desks using their lightweight wireless laptops. When the initial briefing session is complete, the walls of the space will open up to provide a larger, more fluid forum for meeting and discussing ideas in a variety of group sizes. The use of wireless laptops and integrated interactive plasma screens is planned, to provide maximum flexibility. A full video-conferencing facility for communicating with other schools is the only closed off room in the scheme.

The new Classroom of the Future will then resume its role as a fluidly accessible zone within the rest of the department. Existing departmental zones will be complemented by quiet zones. These are best described as niche areas suitable for a maximum of three to four pupils at any one time, providing a more enclosed space for concentrated activities. The concept recognizes that different pupils learn and develop in different ways and at different speeds. The designers do not wish to hold back fast learners. However, the Classroom of the Future will support those who are perhaps slower, more sensory learners. New technology enables efficient monitoring of pupil activity and the

dissemination of vital information. The room is an adult environment for learning where students will enact their roles in a space which is similar to a contemporary open plan office. The emphasis is on spatial flexibility and process flexibility to encourage the designers of the future to think and work in innovative ways.

Physical education is an activity which on the face of it may not fit with ICT. Yet digital cameras abound in effective PE teaching, where educators and pupils have quickly realized that by capturing physical performance and comparing and contrasting efforts with other pupils and top athletes, enthusiasm is generated and performance is enhanced. Gym equipment can be connected to computers to allow students to record their achievements and attempt to beat them. The bid for the 2012 Olympics in the UK, if successful, may also help to focus attention on future medal winners.

A recent initiative, which crosses the boundary between academic and social activity, is called ‘Supaskills’. The tarmac playground of the Archbishop Ramsay School in Southwark, South London has been converted into an area where pupils can play football, netball and cricket and then use computer technology to test their scores scientifically against previous scores set by their peers and by professional footballers. The programme is based on a grid system with areas of the playground laid out for different sports, and relates to the maths/ICT areas of the curriculum. In the football part of the grid, for example, pupils can practise routines involving shooting, passing, dribbling and volleying in an ordered sequence, with numbers and scores determining the level of skill.

The football aspect of Supaskills has been devised by former Liverpool footballer Craig Johnston, who also provides regular after-school coaching. A huge mural of David Beckham plastered onto a grimy party wall overlooking the playground makes the environment even more attractive to those students who use it. This helps them to relate their environment to academic tasks, which would previously have been confined to the classroom. It helps to integrate the physical

ICT learning in schools

Figure 8.7

‘Supaskills’ attempts to integrate sport into aca­demic subjects to encourage and motivate pupil interest. (Photo: Michele Oberdieck.)

with the academic, assisting body and mind coordination; students can, if they wish, simply participate in a good old fashioned kick about.

Like the Supaskills playground, the Yewlands Classroom of the Future was designed to respond and interact with its users, just as they can interact with their computer. In some ways, the designers would like school students to be able to play with the building as they might play on their classroom computer. Thus, some of the facade glazing has electronically wired inserts which can be programmed to interface with computers. Interesting work pages can be projected onto certain parts of the facade, and at night visual messages will be beamed out into the surrounding

Подпись: Figure 8.8 Architecture in the digital age. This proposal for a visitor centre in London's Crystal Palace Park looks like a spaceship; it isn't heavy and grounded like traditional architecture, rather it hovers with a temporal air above the ground, as if it may lift off at any moment and relocate to a distant planet. (© Wilkinson Eyre Architects.)

urban environment. The building becomes like an ever-changing advertising hoarding with education at its heart.

Hidden stairs are a source of bullying in many schools up and down the country; in our view it is not sufficient to simply place video cameras in the stairwells to reduce bad behaviour. Particularly in a vertically organized school building, stairs should be conceived as key areas of social contact, albeit fleeting. The internal architecture of each stair core should be designed around a strong sensory theme, to give the users a positive view of what are usually
negative spaces. At Yewlands there is a soft stair (with quilt padding on its curved inner walls), a hard stair (with exposed concrete walls and faceted Core Ten steel cladding) and a natural stair (with birch timber cladding and water screen windows). Each of these spaces has a distinctive aroma to add to its particular sensory qualities.

The size of stair treads in each of the three cores varies slightly, thus broadly relating to a different age range. Although children of various ages may use any stair, there is a big stair, a medium-sized stair and a small-size stair to add to the other

ICT learning in schools

Figure 8.9

One of the responses to new technology in schools is the need for incidental social spaces that allow for self – and project-based learning to occur. These spaces often take the form of smaller resource areas outside the classroom for use by different age groups, as here at the Millennium School in Greenwich, South East London. (Photo: Mark Dudek.)

sensory themes. This differentiation is explained graphically in the form of real time computer video screens located in atrium areas. They show children using the stairs, evaluating their movement around the building by way of a space syntax software programme.

At the Alsop Exemplar School, the school’s heating and cooling systems are deliberately emphasized within the framework of the overall design with big cooling stacks at the centre of the atrium and simple control devices on the perimeter facades which enable staff and students to have a degree of control over heating and cooling. Having a sense of control of their environment develops spatial awarness and helps students to relate to their building. Even the plant room is centrally located with glazed walls so that students can see and begin to decipher the systems which support and control their environment. The building should be like a cryptic puzzle, constantly unfolding and sending out overt and subtle messages to students who have a natural interest in their environment.

The contemporary school building should become a lesson in its own right, communicating with its users, rich in texture and symbolism, a microcosm of the traditional city. One might add too, that the new school environment should complement the all-pervasive contemporary computer culture, which is rich in text and graphical-based messages, but poor on the level of textural-rich sensory stimulations.


In this chapter we have attempted to gather together the various elements which constitute the electronic landscapes of childhood today, including the application of ICT-enhanced learning in schools, the instantaneous globalized information flows of cyberspace, and the increasingly sophisticated interactive gaming culture which for many children commences in earnest around about the age of 7 and can become all-engrossing by the age of 10.23 It seems that there is a whole series of spatial experiences that go with the new electronic landscapes of childhood, and worrying broader concerns which feel mostly negative to the older generation of parents. Those who accept cyberspace and gaming culture as a new form of architecture should also take note of the landscape qualities their children are immersed within.

Computer games create alternative landscapes of the eye and of the mind, which are impossible to re-create in the modern city. The sophistication and inventiveness of the new electronic playgrounds negate the need for children to invent their own fantasy within the real playground. We create a form of super realism or surrealism, which is an incredibly seductive narcotic for many children. However, the quality of a landscape is sterile and hygienic; it has no texture beyond the computer keyboard and denies children affordances which enhance their social and physical development. Compare this type of ‘space’ to the spaces children inhabited in previous generations.

In his biography of London Peter Ackroyd explains how in the past, contact with the physical textures of the city afforded children rich opportunities for play and development:

Marbles were rolled in the gutters, and the paving stones were marked with chalk for a hopping game. Children made use of walls, against which ‘fag-cards’ were flicked in games such as ‘Nearest the Wall Takes’ or ‘Nearest the Wall Spins Up’.

It was remarked that these games make boys uncommonly nimble with their hands, and this must help them later on if they go in for certain trades such as watchmaking. Then there were the touch games, one entitled ‘London’. The game ‘Follow My Leader’ was popular in the streets of London particularly in the suburbs: it included crossing the road at precarious moments, following the route of railway lines, or knocking upon street doors.

To emphasize the importance of danger and secrecy (from adult supervision), Ackroyd goes on to describe the interest children had in places such as churchyards:

as one Cockney boy put it, ‘You have to play in the dark because torches are no good in the daytime.’ Street games can be played in the darkness of London because ‘sport is sweetest when there be no spectators’. That is why old tunnels, disused railway lines, dilapidated parks and small cemeteries have become the site of games… From that secluded vantage, the boisterous may jeer or throw missiles at passing adults…An instinctive savagery and aggression often seem to be at work in the city air.24

Today, where conventional activities appear to sustain most children without resort to electronics, around about the age of 7, a transformation occurs. For many children, the power of straightforward electronic images usurps the power that more conventional mind and body activity previously had. Similarly, where ‘conventional’ fantasy figures such as Bob the Builder or Postman Pat, consumed as story-book narratives are achievable role models for younger children, the space-time fantasy fictions captured within games such as Matrix or Halo suddenly transform their worlds into malign manipulations of power and conflict. Whereas nineteenth-century London was open to children (and some were killed or injured as a result), today the city is a playground which is largely out of bounds to children independent of adult supervision.

Parents feel reassured that their kids are safely confined to their bedrooms, not roaming the city streets. In addition, the control afforded by computer games gives modern children something they used to get perhaps by taking real physical risks within the city streets or fields and by exploring intruiging features of the natural landscape they found in their travels. It is a strange characteristic of the new electronic landscape, that adults have created it, yet (this generation of parents) would appear to have very little comprehension or interest in its real effects on their children. As Paul Virilio observes, we should be taking note of its possible outcome… ‘Why? Because never has any progress in a technique been achieved without addressing its specific negative aspects. The specific negative aspects of these information superhighways is precisely this loss of orientation regarding alterity (the other), this disturbance in the relationship with the other and with the world. It is obvious that this loss of orientation, this non situation is going to usher in a deep crisis which will affect society and hence, democracy.’25

It seems that technology has overtaken the natural development patterns children were exposed to previously. As more and more sophisticated electronic images develop, an intensified form of urbanism is evolving which is completely out of the ordinary. Whilst the real textures of the city are out of bounds, subversion, which seems to be the natural provinence of healthy growing children, is somehow denied to them as health and safety paranoia restricts children’s activities and their traditional patterns of play. A recently refurbished school we visited had even been equipped with video surveillance cameras in the classrooms; some hope for children to feel the thrill of secretive activity within that sort of an environment.

The computer with its element of edgy interactivity and privacy from adult supervision has filled the risk-secrecy void for many children. Whilst it gives a semblance of risk, it lacks the real risk of chance social interaction within a real urban environment. A space that fosters encounters, exchange and empathy is very much related to face to face interactions. Unfortunately, the streets of our cities are now viewed as dangerous places, particularly for teenage children. This can potentially have a detrimental effect on their lives, in replacing the freedom children previously had to explore their real environment, because there is little or no physical dimension, and therefore no touch-sensory stimulation to enable a sense of sharing, or community. The space of the historical city is imbued with this layered richness. From the material point of view, it is hard to think of any space more empty, more minimal than cyberspace.

Added to this, other synthetic lifestyles appear to make the child’s view of the world one which is completely removed from ‘real time’. For example, air travel can be a false truncated experience. Arguably, a family holiday to Florida will often confine rather than extend a child’s experience of the natural world. Children may see exotic fish in the aquarium at Sea World, however their concept of distance is blurred and framed by the airport lounge, an air conditioned shopping centre sealed off from any natural sensory stimulations. Even during the flight, most of the time they will be engaged with on-board electronic games with only an occasional view out of the window. On arrival at their destination they will have had very little appreciation of the oceans and mountain ranges across which they have actually traversed.

There are many other examples of this falsified view of the world that children are now presented with, from food preparation to professional sport. How can children understand food production when all they see is the polystyrene packaging of a Mcburger appearing like magic down a shute, seemingly produced by robots. No wonder 20 per cent of Britain’s children are obese when they are offered double cheeseburgers for 99p on sexy adverts costing millions to produce. The message is the product, the food is merely garbage.

Inevitably, the environment offered for any fast food interaction is a reflection of a number of these electronic obsessions. Firstly, it is sterile and hygiene obsessed, coinciding with a powerful health and safety agenda which, for example, restricts child play equipment to the overly safe and predictable. Secondly, the high street fast food outlet is predictable in design and standardized the world over (just like the food itself). Children recognize no distinctive sense of place in the restaurant architecture; this again challenges their sense of orientation and understanding of their distinctive place in the world. Finally, the space is like the food itself, lacking in texture and variety. With its flat even lighting, hard synthetic surfaces and inevitable piped muzac, there is no ambivalence about its architecture. It is in fact featureless, in cold comparison to Ackroyd’s description of a texturally rich, albeit hazardous nineteenth century London. Therefore it is hardly open for playful interpretation. It is a form of architecture which offers few affordances for the young child; even the traditional zone for child play and activity, the floor, is out of bounds. No child would be able to spend more than a few moments scurrying around on its hard, cold ceramic tiled finishes. In this respect it is the most adult-orientated environment it is possible to find anywhere, except perhaps a high security prison.

Elsewhere children now hero worship professional footballers, who seemingly burst onto the scene as superheroes with no cultural hinterland, yet earning a million pounds a year and living like royalty. Perhaps most worrying are the recent images of American soldiers in Bagdad, barely seventeen years old handling lethal weapons which, as Germaine Greer observes, is real life played out like a video game.26 Also worrying is the ubiqitous mobile phone which children of a younger and younger age insist on owning in order to mirror their peers. No longer having to smell and sense someone, they speak inanely at the touch of the electronic button, securely distant from any genuine interaction; the ultimate representation of alienation in our society.

So here we are, probably ten years into the electronic virtual world, and children are experiencing the full power of this transformation within their own cultural landscapes; they are the first generation to experience a change which is arguably as profound as the effect the Industrial Revolution had 150 years previously on the lives of ordinary children. Amongst other things that the industrial revolution brought about was statutory schooling for all children under the age of 14 to provide education and primarily to protect children from exploitation in mills and factories. Regulation followed abuse, and transformed the culture of society. When will this generation of liberals recognize the need to think long and hard about the conditions which are being created for contemporary children, as their counterparts did 150 years previously? There may be an upside to it all, but for now one can’t help thinking about the downside.

As I complete this chapter, the Manchester Guardian headline describes a marketing campaign which uses a sophisticated range of digital techniques which are sinister in the disguised form they take. ‘Revealed: how food firms target children’ explains how industrial food firms are using sophisticated techniques to market to children. Referring to Kellogg’s Real Fruit Winders, using mutant fruit characters, advertising agency Leo Burnett’s report states that it…‘spreads the word about the brand virally’, by word of mouth, following an initial underground communication campaign. In this way it has managed to ‘seed’ the characters created as marketing icons together with their secret language. This happened initially at concerts, in magazines and in cinemas. It also used clothing to place the characters with children’s celebrities gaining exposure on TV shows and music channels popular with children. New microsites were created on websites popular with children such as capitalfm. com and digit. co. uk. All this activity was unbranded and disguised. It should be emphasized that Kellogg’s Real Fruit Winders were awarded the ‘Tooth Rot’ award by the Parents Jury in 2002, an independent panel of 800 parents set up by the Food Commission to look at foods marketed to children. It contains real fruit which has been processed and supplemented by sugar, hydrogenated fat and other ingredients with little nutritional value.27 All of this so-called viral marketing has taken place without the knowledge of parents.

What then is the upside of the new electronic landscapes of childhood? The development of computer skills which comes with the potential for such intensive play can and should be recognized as a positive aspect of this new electronic environment. Beyond the sheer joy of play (for children and adults alike), cyberspace is opening all sorts of new artistic forms. For example, the ability to see and experience virtual landscapes creates spatial literacy which is immensely valuable in the realm of architecture and three-dimensional design. The very style of contemporary architecture, with its high quality of material and spatial syncopation, without doubt shows how knowing contemporary designers can be about their buildings, ahead of their construction. Animations enable buildings to be experienced in a lucid way, so that all building proposals can be described and understood as they flow spatially from one room to the next. This was one of the defining qualities great architects of the Modern Movement were able to handle without the benefit of computer technology. Now, all architects can control this aspect of architecture and as a consequence can concentrate on other matters.

There is some evidence that the new generation of younger architects who grew up immersed in computer gaming culture has a far more enhanced understanding of architectural space than those who did not have such a background. We carried out a brief survey of 40 university architecture graduates and concluded that the top ten per cent of students surveyed were highly immersed throughout their childhood years in gaming culture. Of cource it is early days relatively speaking to fully assess this, and it will be interesting to return to this in a decade to assess how far this spatial dexterity has been carried through into the design of the new generation of buildings. However (as someone of the older generation), one can only marvel at how communicative of spatial and architectural intentions the new computer animations have become. It excites a whole range of understanding which places architecture on the same plain as art and drama, in that it can be experienced as a complex three­dimensional form; its uses can be rehearsed prior to construction.

Let’s try something bold. Let’s start from the assumption that games are an important form of contemporary art. What kind of art are they? Most often critics discuss games as a narrative art, as interactive cinema or participatory storytelling. But perhaps we should consider another starting point, viewing games as a spatial art with its roots in architecture, landscape painting, sculpture, gardening or amusement – park design.28

To create a sense of place, many computer games describe space as a continuum. These graphic sequences are becoming more and more sophisticated, and provide the potential for real place making in the future. In his essay The Virtual Reality of the Tea Ceremony, Michael Heim29 observes that some website designers are now trying to create a sense of continuity as a foil to the usual disconnected nature of most Internet sites. The search for wholeness, he believes, is the way in which artists will make sense of cyberspace and create more harmonious, musical places in which people may come to feel more comfortable. However, he adds that computers currently have a tendency to isolate us as individuals. Because of the instantaneous nature of these new space networks, time barriers drop and we lose a sense of distance from one another when entering cyberspace for any extended time periods. This he believes is where the danger lies; respect seems to require distance and if we lose this interior distance, what he describes as ‘the vastness of our spiritual landscapes’, then we risk losing respect.

Within realms of real space, digital technology has enabled the worlds of work to become fluid. Our living and working places increasingly are used in flexible ways. By changing software, the use of a place is transformed. We no longer need an office, as previously determined; today an office can be a home, or a place for leisure. Work can take place on a train or in a car. Our places are therefore more generic and may no longer need to have a predetermined identity. One of the challenges of contemporary design is to adjust to this lack of identity in a place. One of the most difficult and exciting identities we have to grapple with, and move on conceptually, is the school.


1 Eisenman, P. (1996). Visions Unfolding – Architecture in the Age of Electronic Media. In Theorising Architecture – a New Agenda for an Anthology of Architectural Theory (K. Nesbitt, ed.) p. 557, Princeton Architectural Press, New York.

2 Benton Foundation in association with the National Urban League 1968.

3 Kitchen, R. (1998). Cyberspace. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons.

4 Quoted from Antipode – a Radical Journal of Geography, Vol. 34, No. 2, March 2002, Blackwell, London.

5 McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding Medie: Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw Hill.

6 In September 2003 Microsoft UK closed down all of their chat rooms as a result of concerns regarding the welfare of young people involved in this. 27 children have been raped or seriously assaulted as a result of meetings with fellow users over the past year.

7 Bakewell, J. (2003). The Centre of the Bed. p. 28. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

8 Philip French book on film.

9 Reading Digital Culture (David Trent, ed.) Oxford: Blackwells.

10 Spufford, F. (2003). Backroom Boys: The Secret Return of The British Boffin, p. 20. Faber.

11 Jenkins, H. and Squire, K. (2002). The Art of Contested Spaces. In Game On – The History and Culture of Videogames (King, L. ed.) p. 66, Laurence King Publishing Ltd in association with the exhibition ‘Game On,’ 16 May-15 September 2002, Barbican Gallery London.

12 See Note 10, p. 56.

13 The TV sci-fi soap Star Trek set on the Star Ship Enterprise was introduced to British TV viewers in 1972 and became an instant hit. It was often described as ‘cowboys and indians in space’.

14 Le Dibidier Bros.

15 Turkle, S. (2001). Who Am We. In Reading Digital Culture (David Trent, ed.), pp. 240-241 Oxford: Blackwells.

16 Bakewell, J. (2003). The Centre of the Bed. pp. 45-60. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

17 Game On, Pokemon as Japanese Culture by Masuyama.

18 Heft, H. (1988). ‘Affordances of Children’s Environments: a functional approach to envi­ronmental description’. Children’s Environment Quarterly, Vol. 5, No. 3, pp. 29-37.

19 Turkle, S. (2001). Who Am We. In Reading Digital Culture (David Trent, ed.) p. 243. Oxford: Blackwell.

20 The UK Government launched a research proj­ect to develop exemplar solutions to the new secondary schools. Alsop architects along with six other teams were invited to develop new projects to streamline the reconstruction of schools within the UK in July 2003.

21 Laurie Peake talking to the Alsop exemplar scheme as contained in the brochure accompa­nying their design, October 2003.

22 A number of the interviews regarding the use of educational software are taken from the Guardian Classroom of the Future supplement, December 3, 2003.

23 The word ‘cyberspace’ was originally coined by science fiction writer William Gibson and was referenced by Neil Spiller on the Late Show, BBC 2, 26 September, 1990.

24 Ackroyd, P. (2000). London The Biography. London: Catto and Windus.

25 Virilio, P. (2001). Speed and Information: Cyberspace Alarm. In Reading Digital Culture (David Trent, ed.) p. 24, Oxford: Blackwells.

26 Germaine Greer publicizing her book The Boy, Thames and Hudson, London, 2003.

27 The Guardian, International Edition, Thursday May 27, 2004, front page. The article refers to a detailed submission by advertising agency Leo Burnett to the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising for one of its ‘effectiveness’ awards in 2002.

28 Game On Page 65.

29 Heim, M. The Virtual Reality of the Tea Ceremony. In Cyber Reader – Critical writings for the digital era (N. Spiller, ed.), Phaidon.

Updated: October 8, 2015 — 3:44 am