New skills and values regarding what we learn, how we learn, and what we need in order to learn are influenced by a changing time – one in which rote memorization, hyper specialization, and environments driven by “silo” thinking limit our ability to find solutions to complex problems. While education methods are rapidly evolving, our schools continue the design paradigm of the of the industrial revolution’s assembly line: rows of front-facing desks that encourage lecture-style information sharing.
These fundamental issues about educational design were central in the Learning Spaces Collaborate Studio. The course was predicated on the idea that innovative learning spaces should be designed with an approach that encourages architects and interior designers to collaborate with one another, while engaging students, teachers, administrators, parents, and education researchers throughout the design process. The primary objective of this studio was to work in high functioning collaborative teams to research contemporary issues in K-6 education, and design a school that responds to these issues. Our central question became: How can design create spaces that transform the elementary learning environment?
The interior design and architecture students in the studio worked in teams to design elementary schools for two school districts, one urban and one rural. Site played a crucial role as they explored how a school’s setting and community culture impact the design of its learning spaces. Students used evidence based research to inform design decisions by exploring topics such as individualized learning across multiple intelligences, the integration of technology, modularity in learning environments, project-based learning, and the historical evolution of classrooms.
The studio was co-taught by a faculty member in interior design and an architect that specializes in educational environments. We had participation from two school districts; students interviewed more than 60 teachers, administrators, and curriculum directors to learn about user needs. Graduate students from the College of Education shared their research and attended three critiques throughout the semester. Members of the State Education Association attended the schematic design critique and marketed the project through their network of educators. Emily Pilloton visited the studio to critique student work and guest lectured on her experiences with education design. Critiques included design faculty, professional architects and interior designers, and education professionals. The studio benefited from the input of all these stakeholders, allowing us to offer innovative, evidence-based design solutions that responded to real problems and timely questions in education environments.
The proposed design solutions aimed to do two things: create learning spaces that support social engagement and individualized development across multiple learning styles, and propose methods to engage neighboring communities. Our school district partners received evidence-based design proposals that met their curriculum needs and thoughtfully explored methods for engaging their larger communities. In addition, the speculative design solutions are serving as hypothetical case studies for our professional partners working on education environments. Through the studio’s collaborative and engaged approach, these speculative design solutions have reached a wide audience of design and education professionals directly involved with advancing education design standards.