Problems with education are not only about curriculum methods, assessment, or teacher competency. Some of our pedagogical challenges have to do with the ways in which we design school buildings and grounds. This theoretical paper explores how school architecture can be expected to shape the nature of learning by drawing on existing research and models of design and human behaviour. Empirical studies over the last seven or eight decades have clearly established that attributes such as light, temperature, noise, and air quality have an impact on teaching and learning. Where these environmental attributes are inadequate, there are negative effects on attention, behaviour, and academic achievement. However, the research on how teachers and students might benefit from architecturally thoughtful and supportive environments—good design—is less clear. In this paper, arguments are made for paying closer attention to the more subtle elements of design, such as those bearing on ease of movement, intimate and community gathering places, and positive outdoor space. These arguments are supported by examples of Reggio Emilia and Waldorf schools, where architecture is recognized as a powerful and subtle teacher. The paper uses complexity science theory—which seeks to explain how self-organizing systems function—as the central theoretical framework to characterize learning and elements of design in schools and school grounds. The paper provides compelling arguments of how architectural patterns and design, in the context of place-based learning, can positively influence behaviours and experiences.
Professor of Arts Education, Faculty of Education, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
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