Director of award-winning architecture practice Bates Smart, Philip Vivian, says while there are obvious influences on educational design from other sectors such as workplace and even hospitality, it is all about re-imaging the educational social space.
“We are seeing workplace design influencing education through the introduction of vertical campuses, more flexible floorplates, and open plan and collaborative working models. Similarly, hospitality design is influencing the design of social space, informal learning areas and cafes on campuses,” says Vivian.
Asked as to what this design strategy means and more importantly, what it says about what we really value, Vivian notes that a society expresses its values through what it designs and builds.
“The creation of well-designed learning environments that inspire and lift the spirits as part of the education process infers a high societal value on education.”
“In our knowledge-based economy, education is and should be highly valued, and the environments in which we teach and learn should be designed to fully support this value, both now and into the future,” he says.
In terms of sustainability, Vivian is quite optimistic - helped by the fact that in his opinion, many educational institutions have embraced sustainability.
“All education institutions have embraced sustainability at the new building level, placing a particular emphasis on improved environmental performance,” he says.
“The big challenge, particularly for established institutions, is to embrace it at the precinct level, and leverage their scale to implement sustainable, precinct-wide plants and strategic frameworks.”
The move to collaborative learning is changing the way we design schools and other similar facilities, which he notes, “In our knowledge economy, with computers and mobile devices enabling learning, education has fundamentally shifted from a paradigm whereby knowledge is imparted to students, to one where knowledge is gained collaboratively among a group.”
“This,” says Vivian, “has completely shifted the focus of education environments from one focused on teaching spaces, to one focused on collaborative learning spaces outside classrooms.”
“Today's academic buildings are built around the social and informal learning spaces that enable this kind of sharing and collaboration.”
Then there is the issue of ever-shrinking government budgets and “how these will still be able to meet the pedagogical agenda, and provide spaces that attract and inspire students,” asks Vivian.
“The challenge—and reward,” he notes, “is to achieve these goals on a minimal budget.”
On the subject of vertical schools, and whether they are a good idea or a challenge to sustainable design, Vivian is adamant that both governments and the industry have got it right.
“With cities experiencing increasing urbanisation, and pressure on limited land resources, we are seeing the increasing density of education institutions. One very obvious solution is to go vertical,” he says.
“Vertical campuses will be a major consideration for education developments in the short term, and they are a more sustainable way to build.”
“They minimise the use of valuable land, create more compact building forms with less environmental exposure, and facilitate the sharing of services to increase efficiency—all which can positively impact sustainability efforts,” he says.