There’s no *place* like *home* – why comfort and community matter when we work, learn, play & create

This post is my presentation at the Education Future Forum, 15 March 2013


There is no sense of ‘place’ that is greater than ‘home’.

Hugh Mackay, in What makes us tick? Ten desires that drive us  says

‘My place’ is partly an anchor, partly a refuge, partly a stable point in a world that seems kaleidoscopic in the complexity of shifting patterns…we need to know where we belong; we need to feel that some physical place stands as a symbol of our uniqueness and acceptance.

The places where we spend most time are home and work. The picture of the employee in isolation is changing, as we prefer to work in community with others. Yahoo recently banned working from how, because as CEO Melissa Mayer stated, “we are one Yahoo” and community and connection is essential to culture change.

The traditional office  isn’t  particularly inspiring either. People often like to just hang out, work in proximity with other like-minded people. This has led to  a happy medium between home and work.

Sometimes curing office doldrums is simply about a temporary change of scenery, whether that’s in a coffee shop, a co-working space or even a park bench. (Link)

Over the last couple of decades there has been a shift in the way people work and learn, breaking down barriers, enabling choice and recognising that ownership of time space and very work itself is a huge motivating factor. The term ‘third place’  was coined by Ray Oldenburg an urban sociologist. In his book The Great Good Place he writes about the importance of informal public gathering spaces. “Third places” are essential to community vitality.

The $8bn Green Square project in inner Sydney is an urban development will eventually be the home for more than 40,000 people by 2030.  A young architectural team came up with the winning plan for the library at Green Square:

Artist impression 1

Artist impression 2

The below-ground vision will include garden storytelling, rolling hills and a sunken garden for reading and relaxing. It features an amphitheatre, water play area and music rooms where residents can practise on their instruments without disturbing neighbours.

Did anyone mention books?

Today, the library is a third place where people come to meet, read, work and belong. The word ‘library’ was once only synonymous with the word ‘book’. Now it is a ‘place’. The architects described this library as the ‘community living room’, a third place where people can be comfortable and productive at the same time. The library that feels like home.

The Hub “Where change goes to work”  is a non-profit communal movement across the globe that is recreating the work environment.

The Hub

HUBs are uniquely designed spaces that provide a creative environment as well as a professional infrastructure to work, meet, learn and connect. Individuals rent spaces to work with other  entrepreneurs or project space with their team. The spaces are comfortable, with a variety of furnishings, a cafe and a kitchen.

We believe physical spaces are key to our impact  – for work, collaboration, inspiration, community, vibrant spaces, tools, connection, innovation. Why work from home when you can co-locate with other like-minded people at The Hub?


Another example of the third space is The Design Factory at Aalto University in Helsinki. This is a cross-disciplinary project space furnished in the same way as the hub, catering for different ways of working and placing shipping containers to create a variety of working areas – spaces within spaces.


Importantly, the kitchen provides a focal point and an opportunity for “planned coincidences”. It houses the only coffee machine in the building, so people must come to the kitchen to connect.

Design Factory

So what happens when school feels like home?

For generations, educationally, we’ve been polishing the chrome on the Holden Kingswood (or Edsel or Cortina), without seeing the need to reinvent in the hybrid-vehicle era. For generations the physical place of school has remained the same, when all around people are working and learning in markedly different ways. Think about the hospital/medical services, the way we communicate, how we access music and purchase goods – yet there is a constancy to the way schools look – for decades.


The physical environment does matter. This was identified by a pilot study by the University of Salford and architects, Nightingale Associates. This study  found that the classroom environment can affect a child’s academic progress over a year by as much as 25%.

 Slide26  GM23

Schools we have visited in Scandinavia, and in particular Denmark and Sweden,  the design definitely feels like home. There are communal living rooms with soft furnishings and kitchens within the learning space, especially for primary and middle years.

There are, of course, other spaces for instructional sessions, but there were no rigid rows, but coworking tables. These spaces are generally kept small, because they aren’t spaces to stay in all day.


I witnessed a ‘school feels like home’ moment last year.  

The teacher brought the young boy over to the kitchen, took a plate, put some crackers with cheese together for him and then sat at the ‘kitchen table’ to work with him on his maths problems.


Kunskapsskolan is a system of more than 30 free schools across Sweden. The schools have a specific replicable design that is evident at each site.



A new Kunskapsskolan school is not built on fresh greenfield site, but a disused factory, warehouse, shop or hospital that can accommodate the design and way of working – one characterised by light, visibility and flexibility.


Every space is a learning space.

The starting point for design is to think of the entire space available as a potential learning area, not defaulting to “dividing space into static classrooms with connecting corridors”

Most areas have multiple functions …the cafeteria doubles up as a space for collaboration.

Visitors to Kunskapsskolan often remark that our schools look more like the site of a modern, creative knowledge industry, rather than a traditional school.

How do we make school feel like home? 


Test every assumption about school – just because we have always have classrooms, desks, chairs and a teacher at the front, it doesn’t mean they are the necessary elements.

Identify what is actually necessary – begin with the end in mind.

Observe the times – how do your students connect, learn and communicate?

Ditch those things that don’t matter any more – how much of what we do is due to what has always been done?

Focus on relationships – at all levels, and at every nexus.

…And be brave.



One thought on “There’s no *place* like *home* – why comfort and community matter when we work, learn, play & create

  1. I’m really impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself? Anyway keep up the excellent quality writing, it is rare to see a great blog like this one today.


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