From technology to pedagogy, there is much debate in the education sector over how best to create a stimulating learning environment for students. An educational building’s interior forms a crucial part of this discussion, with intelligent design playing an integral role in enhancing positive learning outcomes, while also helping to create spaces that stand the test of time.
Budget vs design
With the future uncertain following the UK’s EU referendum result, it may be tempting to immediately cut back on spending, but the sector must not underestimate the important role design has in creating the best learning outcomes for pupils. With more and more schools offering teaching in diverse subjects, adapting your designs is crucial in order to provide a learning environment that is immersive, adaptable and as much as possible future-proof, by creating an agile space.
However, time and time again, we encounter a catalogue-based solution with schools making an ad-hoc selection of FFE from a glossy book, or worse, a schedule of furniture on a spreadsheet with prices. All too often, the cheapest offer wins and there is no opportunity for designers to suggest intelligent solutions that offer appropriate types of space to help deliver the curriculum and support the teaching staff in their delivery. Such a way of working is not only outdated but, more importantly, it certainly isn’t the most cost-effective; it is crucial to consider the whole life-cycle cost of the project, and the type of environment that could be created as opposed to disconnecting the design from the product specification.
Behavioural architecture, which involves evaluating the unique features of a space to determine how it can function most effectively for its occupants, is an emerging way of working and can be used to great effect by interior design consultants. By working collaboratively with architects and contractors to assess the functional, technological and cultural aspects of a space before the design or specification process begins, interior architects can save time and money, and ensure that the individual needs of each educational site are met.
For example, University Technical Colleges (UTCs) have unique specialisms – ranging from healthcare and sport, through to science and engineering – which each require specially adapted designs in order to help students get the most out of their learning environment. Through effective communication and upfront analysis of the space and its needs, interior architects can transform schools for the better and ensure that every aspect of a room has a function to support students’ learning. By working in this way at SpaceZero, we have established ourselves as the ‘preferred partner’ for UTCs across the UK, delivering environments that meet each individual client’s ethos and educational aspirations.
Frequently, interior design consultants face the challenge of balancing the wide ranging teaching needs of the educational facility with corporate branding requirements and a need to deliver an environment that inspires learning. As part of this work, the importance of colour should not be overlooked. Colour affects our perception of a space and, as a result, influences the way we behave. Assessing which colours to use depends largely on the needs of the learning environment. For example, does the school require a collaborative space that encourages students to generate new ideas? If so, oranges and greens may be considered to promote creative thinking, while blue and grey may be used to focus students’ attention.
All too often, colour palettes are driven solely by the school’s corporate identity, but branding and learning objectives needn’t be mutually exclusive. Through careful analysis of the space available and what it will be used for, different colours in the classroom can tell the school’s story whilst creating an immersive and stimulating environment for students and staff. For example, in our work at Hylton Castle Primary School, which was part of the Government’s private finance-funded Priority School Building Programme (PSBP), we used a combination of bright hues, such as oranges and reds. The choice of colours was to reflect the school’s vibrant character and help engage students, but we were careful to balance these with softer tones, such as blues and greens, to maintain focus and boost productivity.
Recent developments in Building Information Modelling (BIM) technologies have expanded the possibilities of design projects, helping to shape the decisions made at the very start of a scheme. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) systems, such as the 360º virtual tours that we use when revealing designs to clients, support this decision-making process, enabling an interior design consultant to share a clear vision of how a finished space will look early on. It also allows us to quickly make changes and address any concerns that the client may have. As well as utilising these advanced systems, we’ve championed the use of 3D printing technology in our projects to create complex, detailed models, before any physical work begins.
Consider a scenario where the floor space is limited; BIM and 3D printing can visualise innovative solutions that offer adaptable uses of the space, such as accommodating both classroom-based teaching and practical group activities. This flexible and forward-thinking approach to interior architecture and FFE means that investment in Government-led programmes, such as PSBP schools, is money well spent for future generations.
As well as helping to create interiors that are agile and sustainable for the future, BIM can demonstrate intelligent designs for multiple rooms at the click of a button. During our work at Oldham College, SpaceZero used BIM Level 2 to produce designs for a number of specialised spaces, including IT rooms, a laboratory and a recording studio, by coordinating complex equipment, utilities and data networks. This expertise in BIM Level 2 has put the SpaceZero team at the forefront of innovation in the education sector and helped us to secure 40% of the country’s PSBP contracts.
Through the use of bespoke design approaches, such as AR and colour psychology, consultants can create educational spaces that provide an immersive experience and promote positive learning outcomes. With a growing demand for interiors that are fit for the future, those consultants who focus on designing innovative and adaptable learning environments will be at a real advantage in years to come.