Look around at the places where people gather: shopping malls, offices, hotel lobbies, pubs. All these places are seeking to make an environment that make people want to return. At my local mall there are numerous ‘living room’ areas for people to sit, meet and wait. The design of these new communities are multi-level, spacious and use colour and lighting to create the right atmosphere. The designers thought about the way people move around, to see more, stay longer and presumably purchase more.
The traditional Australian school has a wide, broad footprint, reflecting the spaciousness of our land. Usually, they are single or double storey buildings, opening onto a covered verandah overlooking a play area. This means there are often fewer corridors to herd the students along.
However, in many cities today, the medium to high density housing market is booming, bringing families into the city and apartment living. As a result schools in these areas are bursting at the seams. Many of us live in multi-level cities, but are reluctant to think about multi-level schools school.
I have visited multi-storey schools in a number of cities around the world. Older cities like New York, London, Amsterdam need schools where the people are and the people are in the older parts of the city, but even in new developments in Manchester, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Auckland schools are designed to go ‘up’ rather than ‘out’.
What does it mean to rethink how we design schools in Australia? Here are some ideas from around the world, schools and libraries I have visited on SCIL Vision Tours that may provide insight into rethinking the design of school.
Multi-level schools: Often designed around an atrium, these schools open the learning, giving a sense of space within. The spaces for learning are wide, multi-age and/or large cohorts often share an entire floor.
Shared open social spaces: One of the most common elements of multi-level schools are the social/meeting/eating spaces, where the whole community are welcome, without barriers that separate staff spaces from student spaces.
Stairs as a focal point and gathering place: In a number of schools and libraries the stairs are designed to be more than the means of travelling between levels. Wide stairs area enable free flow of movement of large numbers of students and also serve as gathering places for the community.
Spaces within spaces: These smaller spaces enable groups to work on a project, individuals to get into their own headspace and they also can create a sense of fun. A large open space can be broken up with smaller spaces.
Open movement areas and wide corridors extend the learning areas: Corridors have traditionally been considered the efficient means for movement, but are often an inefficient use of valuable space for learning. Make them wide, accessible and part of the learning area.
Light, colour, comfort: Each of these require attention. Designing a space that enables the students to see outside, to see sky and trees and to work in natural light helps everyone’s mood. Similarly, bringing colour through lighting, wall colours, murals or glass panels adds vibrancy.
Many of us like to choose the location and the furniture for the task, it is the same with students. A variety of furniture types provides students with choice. This will mean that all students may not be facing the front, which begs the question, “Do we really need a front at all?”
The People matter: A well-designed school is the starting point, creating the right culture and supporting the students and teachers in the use of the space is essential. Here are a few key areas that require deliberate planning and careful execution to make the transition:
- Creating a collaborative work and learning culture
- Rethinking the role of the teacher
- Simple and reliable technology
- Leadership that communicates vision