Committee on Architecture for Education

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The Committee on Architecture for Education (CAE) is a Knowledge Community of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). We are a large and active group of over 10,000 architects and allied professionals concerned with the quality and design of all types of educational, cultural, and recreational facilities that promote lifelong learning in safe, welcoming and equitable environments. The CAE’s mission is to foster innovative and collaborative design of educational facilities and to heighten public awareness on the importance of learning environments.


Designing the Building as a Learning Tool

By Jane Claire McGarry posted 04-29-2017 02:40 AM


Recently, here in Australia, the New South Wales Government has developed a ten year plan to upgrade the state’s education infrastructure to meet growing population demands.[i]  They aim to make significant changes to the way that their educational facilities are designed to deliver 21st century learning environments. The Government has put out the challenge to its design consultants to deliver innovative learning landscapes which provide the right level of flexibility for the current and future education of their students. Design teams have been asked to brainstorm ways in which learning tools can be incorporated into the fabric of these new facilities. At Conrad Gargett Ancher Mortlock Woolley, we are testing ideas to monitor and showcase sustainable technologies; using way-finding to tell a story whilst teaching young students to navigate a complex environment; integrating digital display monitors to support arts and science curriculum and the list goes on. Though such initiatives are exciting, engaging and will no doubt have a positive impact on the user’s day to day interaction with the building, we also ask ourselves, how can we design to future-proof these learning tools so that they can remain meaningful for current and future generations?

Our thoughts turn toward maximizing the potential of spatial planning to develop the building as a learning tool. How can the planning influence the way students engage and interact with the environment, their teachers, and one another both inside and outside the classroom? Can the planning of the school start to incidentally expose the student to a wider knowledge base, sparking a line of inquiry that may not have occurred in a more cellular and isolating arrangement? 

At CGAMW, we have been working through these ideas on two new primary schools (K-6) located in suburban Sydney; Russell Lea Public School and Smalls Road Public School. Both of these schools have been arranged around a central courtyard, allowing visual connections across and through the space. All of the classrooms and major shared spaces can be passively surveyed from any given point around the school. The students can interact within their own classroom or amongst a cluster of classrooms with direct views from one learning space to another, creating a more fluid environment and avoiding traditional, cellular learning spaces. This aims to encourage the students to be inquisitive and explore their learning environment as they see how their peers progress in their learning activities.  Students passing by will be able to see into classroom displays and activity zones, allowing students of different ages and stages to gain an understanding of what might be ahead for their own studies.

The warm, temperate climate and mild winters allow us to take advantage of passive ventilation and optimal solar access in teaching spaces. The classroom clusters are planned as pavilions around the central courtyard, allowing cross ventilation and daylighting from all sides of the learning space. Students will learn how to control their environment by understanding and manipulating the passive systems in the building fabric. Understanding how good passive design can influence their experience within these spaces will provide fundamental learning opportunities moving forward, one in which architects can play an integral role, as these buildings become a learning tool in their own right.

In looking forward to the upcoming CAE Spring Conference in Portland, I am excited to explore how the different climate and regional architectural traditions produce different solutions to the problem. In temperate climates, planning solutions that allow strong connections to the outside environment and the use of passive design provide a natural learning opportunity within the classroom. How do local designers in the Pacific Northwest provide a solution to future-proof learning technologies in a rapidly changing world?



1 comment


11-04-2017 09:35 AM

Up to 14.4% of the population find it difficult or impossible to use gang restrooms.  Best practice for architecture, in schools or in any building, is to not design these.  Regarding students, when they can use the restroom, they can better focus on learning.