Lisa Horton, associate at Hayball, recently spoke at the School Learning Space Design Conference about adaptable learning spaces.

Horton is an interior designer who specialises in education design, with particular expertise in bespoke facilities for purposeful and differentiated learning.

Architecture and Design spoke to her about collaboration when designing, the challenge of creating diverse spaces and why schools in Australia need to consider the local area and culture.

You recently spoke at the School Learning Space Design Conference about collaboratively developing an adaptable learning space design brief. Can you tell A&D about your talk?

My presentation focused on the collaborative approach that Hayball undertakes when it comes to developing a design brief with a school – we work with schools to understand their needs, and really investigate how teachers and students operate within their environment. This way we can design something with the school that is bespoke and truly meets the needs of their students, staff and community.

I also presented in part of a workshop with Richard Leonard and Susan Ogden the principal of Dandenong High School. Hayball has been working with the school for almost a decade and together we discussed the process of creating a design solution that was tailored to the school’s very specific requirement of amalgamating three schools and over 2000 students into one new campus, in an area that is statistically considered the most disadvantaged urban area in Australia.

Dandenong High School by Hayball is recognised internationally as an exemplar education model of innovative and cohesive design. Image: Hayball

Do you think designers take a collaborative approach at the moment?

In general, designers do take a collaborative approach, whether it’s working with clients or working with different disciplines such as engineers, interior designers, fa├žade designers and landscape designers. Only great things can come from collaborating as everyone brings a different bank of knowledge to the table.

This is even more pertinent in the context of learning spaces and collaborating with schools (clients). Educators understand their community of students, parents and teachers more than anyone.

What are the main challenges at the moment regarding the design of learning spaces?

I think the biggest challenge at the moment is diversity. Twenty years ago, schools had more of a formula for design involving classrooms and corridors. However, now we’re very much interested in creating diverse spaces that are tailored to different styles of learning and activities. For instance, spaces can vary from large open spaces with really good acoustics that accommodate active learning; quiet spaces for students to study solo; or small study areas that encourage collaborative group learning. 

Are there any lessons Australia could learn from other countries?

There are some really interesting examples of international schools that are exploring new pedagogies and learning environments. Some examples of this can be seen in schools such as High Tech High or NUVU Studio who are challenging the more traditional approaches to education through a combination of innovative curriculum, pedagogy and learning environments. 

With that said, while it’s interesting looking at international schools, they often only work in their specific context. When designing schools in Australia, we need to take into consideration the local area and culture of the school and ensure the building meets the needs of its community, whilst connecting meaningfully to its context.

When you look back to when you were at school, what have been some of the main changes to learning spaces?

Almost everything has changed since I was at school! While my primary school fostered self-directed, authentic learning and creativity, I then attended a traditional high school composed of classrooms and corridors. For me, these types of buildings completely dehumanised the experience of learning and highlight the importance of considering the physical environment in education.