Redesigning the classroom and the spaces we learn in

by Tasmin Bradshaw on Apr 5, 2018 in Architecture , Developments
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To keep up with the demands of the 21st century, educators must not only revolutionise the way we learn – but also the spaces we learn in


Boxy classrooms will soon be a thing of the past, say educators and designers, as they evolve into stimulating new spaces and redesigning the classroom tailored to the educational needs of specific age groups and developmental levels.

"If we were to time-travel a teacher from the 19th century to most classrooms around the world today, they would instantly recognise them: generally, a box-shaped room, tables and chairs in rows and a teacher at the front," says Ian Clayton, head of international stream at the French International School of Hong Kong (FIS), which is building a new school in Tseung Kwan O. "Education has to change to meet the demands of the 21st century."

Set to open in 2019, the new FIS campus is an example of how educators and designers are working together to rethink the spaces in which students learn. FIS is "placing the learner at the centre of the experience and shaping educational spaces around them", says Clayton. This is partly in response to students and parents having instant, online access to the information needed to make decisions about where they learn.

The new French International School in Hong Kong will be a primary and middle school but will also open in the evenings and on weekends as a French cultural centre

The new French International School will be a primary and middle school but will also open in the evenings and on weekends as a French cultural centre

"Students are better informed than ever and will be able to make a researched choice on what they want to learn and how they want to be graded," says Wang Tse, co-founder and director of Campfire Collaborative Spaces, which is set to open a co-learning space in Tseung Kwan O, alongside a co-working space.The needs at the different ends of the age spectrum are very different. Dennis Ho, principal in the Hong Kong office of HASSELL, an international design practice with extensive experience in the sector, says the the design of educational buildings differs according to the age group.

"Older students are more individual and need different zones and learning spaces, while younger students are more group-focused."

Exploration and play are driving elements at Campfire's soon-to-open outpost in Tseung Kwan O
Exploration and play are driving elements at Campfire’s soon-to-open outpost in Tseung Kwan O


Hong Kong-based design firm Studio Cassells is behind the design of a new school for Avendale International Kindergarten, an organisation that adheres to the Reggio Emilia educational philosophy. "Reggio Emilia very much embraces play, nature and self-driven exploration," says Lucy Cant, co-founder of Studio Cassells.

"Our job, then, is to plan the spaces to enable this exploration and play to happen as much and as naturally as possible, giving children free access to materials so that they are free to direct their ideas and activities, and creating different types of spaces that use different learning languages."At Toranoko School in Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan, designed by architecture practice Takashige Yamashita Office, a nursery shares space with facilities for elderly people. A vast wooden canopy covers a dining area, office, nursery classroom, adult lounge area and open areas, bringing young and old together under one roof.


Technology is also a key consideration at a primary and secondary level, coming into play in the new FIS campus, designed by Henning Larsen Architects and AGC Design. "Initial discussions highlighted a desire to move away from the more traditional school layout and take into account how the space available could be adapted in a more contemporary way to the latest innovations in teaching and new technologies," says Clayton. Flexible layouts and multipurpose spaces are on the cards at the new campus. "An agora gives students and teachers the opportunity to spill over from classrooms and work together, not only across classes but across streams and across languages," says Clayton.

Also in the works are hanging gardens and a botanical garden that will be open to the local community, plus plenty of other outdoor space; and a slew of eco-conscious features, such as wind ventilation, sun breakers and rainwater collection facilities.

Woods Bagot's design for the foundation's headquarters in Suzhou highlights unconventional shapes that encourage students to innovate

Woods Bagot’s design for the foundation’s headquarters in Suzhou highlights unconventional shapes that encourage students to innovate


"If people want to learn individually, they can go to the library," Roehrs says. "If they want a collaborative domain, they'll go to a student hub or a student-faculty centre. It's about providing a range of more intimate spaces,"Adaptable spaces are particularly important. "These days, students don't just stay in one room – the spaces need to be flexible and this impacts on the internal environment and interior architecture," says Ho. This was the thinking behind HASSELL's design for a university in Shenzhen.

"The client requested a tower that would house R&D labs, but we came up with a campus concept instead, because the floorplate is larger and more flexible, and having more people on one floor enhances their interaction," says Ho. Wilson Architects took a different approach to promoting interaction, creating a new walkway for pedestrians and cyclists through James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, that features spaces where students can meet and collaborate. Flexible learning spaces were key to Woods Bagot's design for the interior of the Suzhou headquarters of the Cyrus Tang Foundation, a non-profit organisation focused on educating disadvantaged communities. The building also features a 5,000sqm education space geared towards university students. In the library, for example, are colorful acrylic blocks that students can sit on, use as tables or stack to create private areas.

Sustainability is front and centre at Hanoi's FPT University, masterplanned by Vo Trong Nghia Architects. Trees and plants line every balcony of a recently unveiled administrative building, the first to be completed, and there is plenty of space for a green lawn on the roof. Its shallow plan allows for the distribution of natural light throughout every space, and it has also been ventilated to make use of breezes from the nearby lake.

This is an excerpt from "Learning curve, a feature article from the April 2018  issue of Perspective magazine. To continue reading, get your copy of Perspective.
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