By: Chad Hamilton
Hamilton + Aitken Architects has a passion for designing learning environments. We view education design as an opportunity to spark imagination, support institutional identity, and foster community development. Every campus space – from hallway to cafeteria to classroom – has the potential to be an inspirational learning environment. Most of our firm's work is focused on improving educational environments.
Providing a variety of types and sizes of spaces inside and outside the classroom accommodates the diverse learning needs of students. For instance, small breakout spaces – such as tucked-away tables, niches, small rooms, covered patios, and soft seating areas – can provide areas for individual and small group work, one-on-one student-student or student-teacher tutoring, group meetings, and collaborative project spaces, as well as socialization opportunities. Attention to the design of both formal and informal learning environments provides "anytime, anywhere" learning opportunities.
Furniture is incredibly important to educational design, and is often relegated to the bottom of the funding food chain. Easily movable tables and chairs make it easier for teachers to arrange their classrooms in an optimal way, depending on the types of learning activities they have planned. Furniture that accommodates wiggling helps kinesthetic learners, like me, to feel comfortable and focus our attention without disrupting the class.
Learning environments need to be multifunctional. We like to design for an evolution of programmatic needs, for growth, and for optimum space flexibility. Flexible spaces allow a variety of activities, can change their use over time, adapt to user needs, and allow schools to maximize teaching space. Openable glass walls and movable acoustic partitions, mobile whiteboards and room dividers, and movable furniture allow classrooms to change shape and size to better accommodate different learning activities.
Students require spaces that not only support small group interaction and collaborative work, but also promote a culture that supports socialization opportunities. This increases student engagement and sense of ownership - flexible, changeable spaces for students to congregate; lots of area to display student work; and places that students can operate, like student stores – these all provide students with opportunities for engagement, to improvise and take chances, and to apply their knowledge and skills, all with a safety net underneath. The integration of technology in these spaces is very important, since students rely heavily on technology to access information, to create, and communicate.