The example

The thrust of school design in the recent decades has been the maximization of the archaic educational philosophy of ‘Sage on the Stage’ and the exclusive use of the architectural mentality that ‘Form follows Function’. This thrust is well intended, and these ideas worked in the past.

However, the relevance of education has shifted and therefore so should the design of learning environments.

Rather than doing more of the same, this example exhibits how we might expand the possibilities of learning and learning environments. The example stems from a collaboration in Scotland to redefine learning environments for secondary school students. The groundwork came out of a Design Down workshop in Edinburgh in May 2003. The objective was to define an exemplary learning environment in order to inform other projects.

Because this design was not site specific, only a site strategy was applied. Consistent with the

The example

Figure 3.2

Public (community) and private (student) zones.

Design Down directions, the siting approach considered the school as public space. This is similar to the way churches were perceived in Rome around the eighteenth century. Public space included streets, parks, plazas, courtyards, and churches, as depicted in Figure 3.1. This is a portion of a 1748 map of Rome by Gianbattista Nolli. The shaded area shows all private buildings and the white space is the public space including the inside of churches. This is an exemplary case of place making. The round building to the right is the Pantheon, built nearly 2000 years ago. It has had several functions and still serves the community well as public space. We should be able to say the same thing about the schools we build.

The objective therefore is to make major portions of the school accessible to the public. This is consistent with today’s desire for the school to be the centre of community. Other portions of the building would be the exclusive realms of the learners. Because both students and public share the use of some places, a third, shared zone in between the other two is envisioned. This is shown in Figure 3.2. The diagram is circular to depict the possibility of multiple entrances from various directions.

The programme is straightforward. Fifty per cent of the space is to be ‘useful space’ and the other fifty per cent is to be ‘useless space’. With the exception of a lecture room and a theatre, each with sloped floors, all other occupied spaces are functionally undefined. See Figure 3.3.

The white boxes represent learning labs (useful space). They are accessible by the public, the students, or by both, depending on their location. The other white space is support space. The light shaded area is useless public space and the dark shaded area is useless learner space. The textured space represents courtyards.

The useful spaces are supported with an intense infrastructure underneath (hot and cold water, waste systems, compressed air, exhaust, gas, multiple power levels, hardwire and wireless networking, etc.). Furnishings are movable and designed for interactive use. This allows the particular use of the space to be established by the users and the equipment they bring to the box. The possibilities include small or large group discussions, various forms of research, multiple means of production, experimentation, performance, indoor sports, etc.

The useless spaces have only minimal support infrastructure (power and networking). Furnishings are available for various forms of social interaction. This allows for the natural formation of communities of practice.

The useful spaces gain meaning through the establishment of activities developed in collaboration with the learning programmes. The useless spaces gain meaning through the creative interactions of the learners and the environment.

Figure 3.4 begins to suggest the architectural character of the design. The experience of inhabiting this space is to experience a montage of gaps. It is an experience that demands the creative participation of the learner. The environment is incomplete without the learner’s involvement. The architect and the learner share authorship for creating the situation. The architect primarily takes the setting apart and the learner puts the setting back together. Flexibility is meaningless because functionality is not fixed; therefore there is no need

Figure 3.3

Plan – conceptual layout for a new model school.

 

Public Space

 

Support Space

 

Learning Lab

 

Courtyard

 

Theatre

 

Courtyard

 

Learner Space

 

Lecture

 

Courtyard

 

Courtyard

 

Public Space

 

Support Space

 

Figure 3.4

Image of learning labs (exterior walls, roof, windows and doors are not shown).

 

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Figure 3.5

Conjectural siting, Rome.

 

Church

 

Church

 

Plaza

 

Plaza

 

Plaza

 

Pantheon

 

School

 

Court

yard

 

Church

 

-Court. yard ■

 

Plaza

 

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Church

 

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for movable walls. An environment for ‘Critical Pedagogy of Place’ is an environment where standardized ‘placeless’ curriculum cannot survive.

This concept would fit into an urban setting (in this case historic Rome). The exterior enclosure would take on an appearance in keeping with its surrounding historical context. Daylight would come through a glass roof vaulting over the complex. Like the Pantheon and other churches, the school becomes public space.

However, the design is also adaptable to suburban or rural locations. In a rural setting the enclosure could be a geodesic dome and
thereby enhance the place-based pedagogy and become its own ecological system. In a suburban location the enclosure would become a closer articulation of the plan’s masses and voids, with materials, colours, textures, and a scale consistent with the existing context. The objective of the design is to support creative pedagogy and powerful place making. The exterior enclosure can be anything. It should reflect the context of the site and not be an end in itself (designed as an object in space). This adaptability illustrates another dimension on how the design fits the concept of contingency. Its location is indeterminate.