Like the twentieth century, the twenty-first century school building design is also driven by two primary philosophies of education and architecture. However, these philosophies have changed from those of the last hundred years. These shifts in philosophies are appropriate because they reflect the new primary context of today’s civilization, culture and ecology.
From the educationist’s world, an approach to learning is indeed a hybrid stemming from two learning theories, one focused on culture and the other on ecology. This hybrid has recently been articulated as ‘Critical Pedagogy of Place’. As such, it is the synthesis of ‘critical pedagogy’ and ‘place-based education’. Both are concerned about the space or geography of learning.
Critical pedagogy speaks to learners taking action based on their situation. Pre-requisite to this is reading the context they find themselves in. This requires learners to understand the social, political, and economic forces surrounding them. It is the cultural dimension. This includes recognizing and dislodging dominant ideas, which is called ‘decolonization’. It is a process of reading the world through taking it apart.
Place-based education, as the name suggests, is focused on the place where the learners find themselves. The idea is that citizens need to understand the complexities about the places they inhabit in order to have some direct bearing on their well-being. This is the ecological aspect. This learning to live well where you find yourself, most often in a place that has been previously exploited, is called ‘reinhabitation’. It is a process of understanding and taking action through putting things together.
A ‘Critical Pedagogy of Place’ suggests a learner who is creative.
To complete this new, twenty-first century formula for creating new learning environments is an architectural philosophy that addresses not spaces so much as their relationships. This approach is in alignment with the learning theory of ‘Critical Pedagogy of Place’. The learning concept of taking it apart and putting it together becomes a metaphor for design. The key to understanding this shift in approach revolves around the concept of authority in architecture. In schools designed in the Modernist era, the author of the designed environment is solely the architect (as an agent of the client). The user has no role other than being passive within the environment. However, in moving from considering learners as passive recipients to active players in their learning experience, the objective becomes one of engaging them in their situation (which includes the environment). To do this they must also become authors of their environment. Authority becomes shared between the producer (architect) and the consumer (learner).
This is consistent with the purpose of developing creative learners. Rather than an environment where all actions are predetermined, the goal is a setting that engages the learner by a design that requires them to participate in that environment. These places are incomplete without the user’s involvement. These building are not experienced all at once, but rather piece by piece, in moments separated by gaps in space, time, and climate. It is these gaps or relationships that become the focus of the design.
This strategy of designing relationships, such that it requires the creative engagement of the user to complete the setting, has recently been identified as the ‘Montage of Gaps’. A montage is a composite of juxtaposed elements. In this design approach these elements are the gaps of space, time, and climate. This theory also builds on some other late twentieth-century architectural theories including the idea of uselessness and the architecture of disjunction.
The concept of uselessness in architecture is the idea of rejecting determinism about the future use of space. Uselessness in space suggests users who display mental, bodily, and physical creativity. This also connects directly to the concept of contingency because the space use is not yet established. Together these concepts have significant implications for programming. The functional designs of last century’s schools were driven by intense investigations to determine what functions to design to. This led to extensive programming tasks which helped to determine the educational curriculum. Today this can be seen as a futile exercise (as currently practiced). The programme or use is established, not through numerous meetings prior to design, but rather by the user, as appropriate in an interactive place after construction.
An architecture of disjunction concerns spaces, events, and movements and their separation. As a user experiences such fragmented situations, it is the nature of the mind to put things together. Therefore, disjunction suggests a user who displays constructional and conceptual creativity consistent with our purpose. This also negates the common architectural concept of designing a
school as an object in space. The effort (in the latter years of the last century) to raise the meaningfulness of schools through better looking buildings has not only been a futile exercise, it has been counterproductive. The shift is from objects in space to place making space.