The purpose

There are limited resources in society, so the objective of an efficient education (a quantity measure) is certainly valid. But that by itself falls short of the goal of a good education. This education also needs to be effective, which is a quality measure. Certainly the design of learning environments should be responsive to supporting effective education. Although most people would agree with this, in practice this has not been the case. The form may follow the function, but this by itself is also insufficient. Our efficiency – or ‘outcome’-driven learning environments become barriers to expanding the possibilities for learning and the creativity of learning.

Creativity is used here in the broadest sense, an aspect of human behaviour that encompasses more than the creativity of an artist or a composer. To form a word as you speak, to imagine an image in your mind, or to recognize the smell of a flower takes a creative action in the mind. Even in sports, to hit a ball is acting creatively. In learning, one formulates thoughts in the mind that did not exist there before. Learning is a creative action.

In order to insure discipline and behaviour control, creativity is designed out of schools. The physical space is created on the principle of surveillance by those in control, the teachers. The environment becomes a barrier to those actions which are not predetermined. The users are told what to do to take noncreative action. This is often done in the name of safety and security. These concerns are important, but it is possible to achieve this without resorting to a prison-like, barrier-impregnated atmosphere. The key to doing this is for the architect to share the ‘authority’ in the design with the learners and their teachers.

The purpose is to enable learner creativity. The learning setting needs to engage the learner. This is why the wilderness is such a powerful place. When you are in the wilderness, it is out of necessity that you think creatively in order to take action. Schools do the opposite. There are no decisions to be made. Everything is predetermined. The building sends the message ‘Learner, do this but not that’. Schools are over-designed; they leave no active role for the learner. To design a place where learning is the goal, but in reality is one that obstructs learning, is a crime.

Flexibility, typically done as a reaction to the limits of efficiency, does offer some opportunity for engaging the users in taking some creative action. However, the experience has been that folding partitions, demountable walls or other major room configurations require efforts that overwhelm the users and therefore go unchanged. This is probably because the changes are insignificant. The alternative approach proposed here is to build all major spaces as permanent, but incomplete.