Whether minimalist or maximalist, education design ultimately needs to be adaptable. Leanne Amodeo explores the power of flexibility in contemporary education spaces.
November 3rd, 2021
Contemporary kindergartens and schools aren’t just about mathematics and grammar. Rather, they are socio-spatial environments where developing the individual’s character is just as important as academic performance. And it’s especially true today, when students’ wellbeing is being re-prioritised as a result of the pandemic.
Spaces have to support a range of pedagogical frameworks that in turn support self-directed learning, collaboration and discovery. So what type of interior does this?
The short answer is many different types. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to designing for education, particularly since pedagogies shift, new technologies necessitate for greater integration and future-proofing poses challenges.
However, the very best new fit-outs are characterised by flexibility and adaptability, and the very best architects and designers are adopting a tailored approach. Interiors range from minimalist to maximalist and include lots of variations in between.
Architecture studio PORT’s recently completed kindergarten in Opole, a city in southern Poland on the Oder River, sits at one end of the spectrum. It’s the perfect study of a dramatically stripped back learning environment, which, in this case, supports the curriculum’s Montessori teaching methods.
PORT co-directors Józef Franczok and Marcin Kolanus were tasked with re-imagining a decrepit building and smaller structure in as equally poor condition. They could have easily knocked down both. Instead, they decided to restore them, exposing their original features in the process.
The result is two highly tactile interiors that reveal the history of each building through original brickwork, architectural fragments and various markings.
As Franczok explains, “Adaptive re-use is the future. But we also wanted to show the children how these old buildings were constructed because each structure tells a story.”
Franczok and Kolanus’ interventions are minimal, especially in the double-storey main building, where the generous volume emphasises each learning space’s proportions.
A natural timber palette is applied throughout, from the flooring and neat built-in joinery units to a slide that runs along the stair, adding an overtly playful element to the scheme. Windows and skylights of differing sizes let in natural light and, in keeping with Montessori principles, walls are kept clean, any superfluous decoration has been removed and no objects or furnishings encumber children’s learning.
It’s a calming, immersive environment and that was the idea.
“In a world where we’re often overwhelmed with information, we believe that simplicity in architecture and design can better help us to connect with nature and our own true selves,” says Kolanus. “More importantly, children can learn they don’t need lots of toys or technological devices to explore or experience joy.”
While the smaller building was converted into a workshop and common room, the architects added a single-storey extension with full-height glass windows to the rear of the main building.
This box-like structure functions as an ‘internal backyard’ allowing the children to connect with the outdoors even during the harsh winter months.
Every part of this design has been considered to offer opportunities for discovery and personal growth, plus a sense of security.
At the other end of the aesthetic spectrum is BSPN Architecture’s recently completed design of Ormiston College’s Centre for Learning and Innovation, 25 kilometres southeast of Brisbane.
At a time when primary and secondary schools across the globe are questioning the need for walk-in libraries, this project boldly re-imagines the typology.
“The Centre had to reactivate the heart of the campus to emphasise that learning is physically and symbolically central to life at the College and beyond,” says BSPN Architecture director, Bretton Watson. “And it had to be adaptable, resourceful and multi-functional to adjust to the needs of students.”
The double-storey project is anchored by an internal street that runs through the centre of the building, while a cluster of spaces surround it. These rooms are flexible and support a range of different learning modalities, from group collaboration to autonomous study. Each one is technology-enabled and aligns with the pedagogical intent to support a variety of student learning experiences.
Watson and the team heightened the interior’s experiential qualities by implementing a collage-like scheme that incorporates different materials, colours, textures and graphics.
In the young readers’ area, for example, a plywood cubby house is set against a wall of painterly pastel colours and in a group collaboration space, yellow mosaic flooring and bench seating echoes the oblique angle of the lowered ceiling and patterned wall.
These social areas are far more energetic than the quiet study spaces and dedicated rooms that are a subdued mix of natural materials and muted greens, yellows and blues, which lend each zone its own distinct identity.
The overall effect is dynamic, injecting the Centre with a sense of excitement that transfers to the students.
“This is a cultural and learning hub that actively embraces engagement and where students are encouraged to seek and achieve,” says Watson.
It reinforces the idea that learning takes place everywhere and at any time, empowering students to take ownership of their own learning and learning environment.
Whether minimalist or maximalist, education design ultimately needs to be adaptable. The design of these learning institutions has to work hard to facilitate each child’s personal growth and development, as well as their inter-relational skills. And it’s this that will deliver outcomes that ultimately nurture and progress students.
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