Sally Brincat from ThomsonAdsett discusses the benefits of incorporating sustainable design into schools, and how education facilities will transform over the coming years.

Brincat recently joined ThomsonAdsett as the Victorian education sector lead, bringing with her 20 years of experience across various sectors.

She has designed and delivered a range of projects for Victoria’s School Building Authority and top universities including the University of Melbourne, Monash University, La Trobe University, RMIT and Deakin University.

What is your design approach?

I believe very strongly in architecture as a vehicle to bring people closer to nature. Architecture should encourage a connection to the natural systems and inspire an appreciation and respect for the environment which we rely on for our very survival.

Why did you choose to get into architecture and more specifically, education design?

I had always wanted to be a teacher myself up until I took a graphics (technical drawing) elective in grade nine and my world changed forever. A relative of mine worked with Sir Walter Burley Griffin on the design of Canberra and so you could say that architecture was in my blood.

Education design is the coming together of those two things. I have worked on education projects almost continuously since my first job, ranging from Early Learning Centres to a major refurbishment of the 12-storey Menzies Building at Monash University’s Clayton Campus. Most recently (before joining ThomsonAdsett) I led a joint venture project team in designing five primary and two secondary schools on greenfield sites for the Victorian School Building Authority (VSBA).

What are some of the major changes you’ve seen in the design of education spaces?

The practice of teaching is undergoing great change.

Technology has created opportunities in education that didn’t exist ten years ago and schools and teachers are leveraging this technology to engage the students with their learning. Design and critical thinking are becoming the primary methodologies by which students seek knowledge. Learning outcomes are not measured by a knowledge of facts, but rather by multi-disciplinary project outcomes that cross traditional ‘subject’ lines.

We are designing learning spaces that no longer fit the science classroom or woodwork classroom mould. This allows students and teachers to create and tinker across a variety of curriculum ideas all at once.

What will education design look like in 10 years?

Adaptability is the key to the future.

A 15-year-old today will have five different careers and 17 different jobs across their lifetime, and the bulk of those jobs don’t yet exist.

Developing transversal competencies such as collaboration, critical thinking, innovation and problem-solving comes from applying skills acquired in non-work or leisure activities, to job-related activities. These competencies broaden a student’s ability to solve problems and think outside the box, and these are the skills that employers of the future will require.

As architects, we need to design for this adaptability. We will continue to see more and more education spaces that serve multiple purposes.

Why now, more than ever, do education institutions need to seamlessly incorporate sustainable design into their buildings?

We have evidence that learning outcomes can be improved by a staggering 20-26 percent by simply providing students with natural daylight in their classroom.

The application of other Biophilic design principles has been shown through various research to reduce anxiety, increase focus, improve general feelings of health and wellbeing, reduce absenteeism and improve behaviour. All of these benefits contribute to improved learning outcomes. In addition, this approach can reduce the reliance on active cooling and heating systems, reducing energy consumption thereby improving air quality. The real benefits of good (sustainable) design can flow a lot further.

How can architecture improve learning?

Students who develop their ability to delve into a body of knowledge and collaborate with others to solve complex problems will unlock the answer to questions we don’t even know to ask yet. As designers, we can participate by designing the spaces that facilitate the learning of that kind of ingenuity and innovation. Who wouldn’t want to be involved in that?