Designing for better education?

Monday 07 Jan 2013

New report confirms that learning environment impacts student performance

Most architects know that school environments affect students’ performance, and could be forgiven for feeling smug at the contents of an independent report by academics at the UK’s Salford University if it were not for the fact that it is unlikely to influence clients and budget holders.

This report - part of the Head Project (Holistic Evidence and Design) - goes to the heart of our campaign to highlight effective design in the WAN AWARDS with Buro Happold. Getting post-occupancy data from recently completed buildings is not yet the norm but evaluating performance is heavily dependent on this feedback.

The timing of the report is also interesting as the UK is just about to embark on a severely cut-down school building programme. Critics say the design brief for the 261 primary schools borders on one size fits all/flat pack.

The report confirms a strong correlation between the built environment and test results in reading, writing and maths. It highlights lighting, air circulation, acoustics, individuality and colour as all having a direct impact on learning performance.

The UK’s proposed new schools are reportedly some 15% smaller than previous designs and much of this reduction will come from communal areas, corridors etc.: a crucial area of known problems.

Richard Rogers in response has urged the UK government to rethink its policy. London architect Deborah Saunt has announced that her firm DSDHA will be boycotting the new school building programme.

Malou Juelskjaer is an Associate Professor at the University of Aarhus, Denmark and is highly experienced on the interplay between educational architecture and learning. She comments: “School children show detailed knowledge about themselves as learners and about their school day.

"Many children struggle to stay disciplined at their chair by the desk in crammed small rooms. When doing research and collaborative design processes with children they ask for physical differentiations, possibilities for getting out of the landscape of chairs and rows of tables in order to concentrate, focus, get ideas, feel good about what they are doing.

“It is not the time to ignore what educational research and architectural studies are teaching us about the interplay between the build environment and learning conditions. We are actually only beginning to take these insights into serious account, and simplified design guidelines is a step backwards in relation to this process of interrogation.

"Opposite to the rhetoric of the UK's Education Secretary perhaps we cannot afford not to take this interplay between the build environment and learning serious: There might be a bill to be paid later on.” 

Michael Hammond
Editor in Chief
World Architecture News

Further details

HEAD Project (Holistic Evidence and Design)
Listen to podcast: We talk exclusively to co-author of the HEAD Project report, Professor Peter Barrett of Salford University.

In next week's issue of News Review (Tuesday 15 January, 2013) Buro Happold's Education Sector Director Dr Mike Entwisle gives his view on the standardisation of school design.

Professor Barrett is Professor of Management in Property and Construction at Salford University in the UK. Peter is immediate past President of the UN-established International Council for Research and Innovation in Building and Construction (CIB) involving 2000 experts in 60 countries. Peter has produced over one hundred and seventy single volume publications, refereed papers and reports, and has made over one hundred and ten presentations in around sixteen countries. 

Key Facts:

United Kingdom

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