What happens when 16 architects & educators travel together in the wintry north? Part 2

 

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First things first in Copenhagen

We spent five nights based in Copenhagen, including a weekend, which enabled the group to explore city and visited Hellerup Skole and Orestad Gymnasium (Senior High School) both are considered inspirational designs. We were grateful that the principal of Orestad took time to talk about the vision – “the open plan office as a school”. At Hellerup, an early example of deliberate open-space design, the new head is seeking to reshape the school’s culture to be in alignment with the original intention of the design.

 

 

 

We were very grateful for the input from our friends at Ecophon. Clapping and looking for reverberations seemed to be part of an assessment of all spaces, after our seminar with Mai-Britt Beldam. We spent the next day just across The Bridge in Sweden, hosted by Colin Campbell visiting Kunskapsskolan in Helsingborg and Landskrona, and a university in Malmo, all the while applying some of our new knowledge about acoustics.

Kunskapsskolan is the name of around 50  free-schools  across the nation. These are an example of a scaled model to grow a system of schools. The design and pedagogy aims to provide an education that is highly structured and self-directed, where the students are supported by teacher-coaches in a physical environment that is repurposing factories, hospitals and office buildings as schools.

IMG_7756 (1)One of my favourite places to visit is the learning space for nine to eleven year olds at Maglegaard school in Copenhagen. Central to the shared space is a kitchen (with knives in the draws!) and a shared table with flowers and candles (yes, they were lit). If the children are hungry they get something to eat. It was a comfortable environment, with caring teachers who created an ambience that felt like home.

 

Projects by big-named architects and some well-known buildings featured on the itinerary. The 8Tallet building in Orestad was designed by Bjarke Ingells Group (BIG). We visited the RIBA award winning Den Bla Planet, Denmark’s national aquarium, designed by 3XN, who also designed Orestad Gymnasium. Meccanoo designed the TU Delft Library and Delft’s new train station. NEMO science centre in Amsterdam which was designed by Renzo Piano.

NEMO and Den Bla Planet (The Blue Planet), along with libraries, are important learning spaces as well. The community choose to visit, school groups book in and the learning is unstructured and inspirational, where curiosity is sparked. At NEMO I observed that the most productive experiences for the children seemed to occur when they were with an interested adult, guiding them and asking questions. The children loved the giant bubbles – being able to pull a bubble around and over. You could see the children working it out, thinking about how it worked and experimenting with techniques.

Amsterdam City Library was part of the architect-led walking tour and was described to us as a “public building with books”, a place where people were welcome, busy with community activity, with a thoughtful and interesting design.

We also visited libraries in Delft, a 50 minute train trip from Amsterdam.  Completed in 1997, TU Delft commissioned Mecanoo to design a library that would be the heart of the university and give a face to a campus the size of a city district. The library is meeting expectations two decades after its opening, with regular tweaks and iterations to make the space meet the changing needs of the learners.

I really want to thank the 15 amazing people who said “yes” to joining the study tour. It wasn’t just the places we visited, it was the rich dialogue, the shared problem-solving and the laughter along the way that made it all work. I have such a wonderful opportunity and feel very blessed to be able to lead these tours. 

@anneknock

 

What happens when 16 architects & educators travel together in the wintry north? Part 1

We met for dinner in downtown Helsinki on a Sunday night, our first night. We walked from our hotel through snowy streets to the restaurant, where many of us took the when-in-Rome option and chose reindeer from the menu. It was the first time we’d all been together as a group. By Thursday the group was laughing with incredulity that we had only known each other for a few short days.

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When I first planned this tour I was hopeful to have about eight people, and overwhelmed when I cut off registrations at 15. From 24 January until 5 February we went from Helsinki, Copenhagen with a side trip to Sweden, Amsterdam and then a handful went onto Geneva. The vision for the tour was to visit places and spaces for learning and to meet the people who use it, which fits my DNA. I love exploring interesting spaces and seeing how it works for people.

IMG_7610In education, as in many fields, there can be the showpiece architecture that is not practical for people, or there is the beautifully designed and functional space where, over time, an ineffective culture minimises the potential of the possibilities.

On these tours we experience this range of responses. The first school we visited Viherkallio School in Espoo, outside Helsinki, was a wonderful example of strong leadership growing the desired culture. The school was built in the 1960s and hadn’t had a significant structural refit, but it worked well and was responsive to the needs of the community.

The last place we visited on the tour, Rolex Learning Centre at Lausanne University was a purist piece of architecture, that seemed too sophisticated in design to achieve the desired function, and needed modifications and retro-fitted elements to make it work.

We visited the Aalto Design Factory, born from a research project focused on creating an ideal physical and mental working environment for product developers and researchers at Aalto University.

In Copenhagen and Amsterdam we took part in architecture-hosted walking tours. The Orestad urban project on the island of Amager, out of Copenhagen, was intended to create a new urban hub, yet to date has yet to live up to expectations. There has been significant infrastructure projects over nearly 10 years, with the expectation that 20,000 people would live in Ørestad, 20,000 would study there and 80,000 would be employed, this has yet to be realised. Perhaps the “if you build it” philosophy doesn’t always play out.

IMG_7949.jpgThe Amsterdam architect-led tour around the developing Oosterdok harbour revealed the thinking and planning that is connecting this city in a new way. A constant ferry links the Overhoeks district across the Ij River and the new orientation of the transport hub of Amsterdam Centraal facing the river, is ensuring that the area known for the landmark Shell building becomes a new vibrant hub, with the Eye Film Institute taking centre stage.

 

 

A “Learning Spaces” tour needs to visit more than just schools. We need to explore the places where active and unscripted learning occurs, understand where people live and work in the 21st century and allow time and space for the group to process and download their thinking.

@anneknock

Multi-level schools for multi-level living: 7 lessons from great cities around the world (and lots of pics)

Living room comfortLook 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.

primary school 3The 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

@anneknock

 

 

Why travel? It continually changes me #VisionTour13

I am in the final month of preparation for SCIL Vision Tour 2013. As the Northern Hemisphere heads back to work after the summer, I start to make the final confirmations with my contacts across the seas. It’s close.

VisionThe tour is called ‘Vision’ for a good reason. It’s only when we can look at a far horizon that we can see what’s ahead. We can’t envision from the everyday, the detailed view, when we are in the thick of it, but from taking some time to see the big picture. Each year as we host these tours we are in the company of a great group of educators and administrators who are keen to learn more and see what elements can be integrated into their contexts.

There are elements of travel that aren’t much fun… queues, checks, queues, checks, and that last couple of hours of a long haul flight. But I once I’ve arrived and face a new day in a new city, the irritations fall away and I am excited. 2013-05-04 16.22.05

What do I love?


Negotiating my way around a city, learning from the locals, not expecting my life. I am a people-watcher. I try to get the zeitgeist, the feel. I don’t want to be a tourist who stands out like a sore thumb, but the traveller who is shaped by the journey.

Cheese shopFood, of course. I usually avoid the places on the tourist strips and fossick in the back alleys to find where the locals congregate. Then I ask stupid questions, “What are they eating?”, pointing to a nearby table.

CoffeeFinding the great coffee. I have been relatively successful in hunting out the cool places in a city. It’s my travel-hobby – see the Coffee pages. 
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The quirky local traditions that make no sense to people from other place. Like Caga Tio, Barcelona’s Christmas log that excretes treats for children.

But most importantly, it’s the learning, about the world and ultimately about myself.

  • The world – Culture is shaped over time and experiences. History, ancient and modern, have an ongoing impact on today. When we open our eyes we catch the unexpected.

  • Myself – Overcoming challenges, problem solving – I’ve had my assumptions questioned and my worldview confronted.
    Vision

Vision Tours focus on shaping vision. We experience schools, museums, libraries and places for work and learning. Each year the tour introduces some different elements, as we come across new examples of rethinking learning and spaces, and great new personalities.

Do you want to come in 2014?

@anneknock

 

Sagrada Familia – breathtaking in its generosity of space and light.

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On our first morning in Barcelona we visited Sagrada Familia. I have never been so overwhelmed by a building that truly took my breath away. This church shows how generosity of space and light and attention to detail in design can create a building that I think I would describe as the most captivating space I had ever walked into.

Described as a Modernista Masterpiece it is still under construction 80 years after the death of Antoni Gaudi, its creator. The construction is faithfully true to his original design.

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Inside this immense church it feels like a forest – treelike columns, with high branches supporting the canopy above. Natural light streams into the cavernous internal space.

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Gaudi paid detailed attention to every element within the space.
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He designed and built a school house for the children of the construction workers which has a storybook feel.

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As well as preserving the school room, Gaudi’s design studio has been replicated and it provides information about how the structure was designed.

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We took the lift to the top of the tower, to enjoy the view of Barcelona…

20121217-154623.jpg …and the amazing journey down the stairs of a couple of the towers connected by small bridges was spellbinding in its geometry

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These few thoughts and photos can, in no way, express the grandeur of Sagrada Familia

This was our very first morning in Barcelona. It is an amazing city.

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