Where are the beautiful learning spaces?

Imagine a classroom. What do you see? Is it the classroom of yesterday or of tomorrow?

In the fall of 2011, I went for a visit to a school and wrote a blog about breaking down school walls. I was struck by how the physical space of schools were not duplicating the vision of community engagement, creativity and innovation the way that so many are yearning for. I question the culture of learning that schools are promoting when the design leaves little to imagination. Historically schools are designed by institutional architects who also build hospital and jails. Now, I am not saying that none of these buildings have ever been beautiful, but it is not the norm. There are far more beige cylinder block classrooms and rows of desks attached to chairs than there should be.

I think we are ready to start seeing schools as places where we look up to, where we travel to, where we aspire to be more, where schools are beautiful learning spaces.

The role of schools is to keep children safe, to educate them for tomorrow, to learn the ABC’s of life and to pursue the next level. But where?

Last year, Andrew Campbell and I started a blog called Beautiful Learning Spaces, it is a collection of buildings that we find to be lovely and replicate the design principles that we think promote creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking that 21st century skills and respecting the space as the third teacher. We are inspired by the writings of Reggio Emilia and The Third Teacher which both understand the importance of the environment.

Between the two of us, we have been filling the blog with images of high schools, universities, classrooms, offices, libraries, museums and all sorts of beautiful spaces. What works well is that we don’t see beautiful learning spaces as coming from one specific sector but rather taking bits and pieces from spaces we have been or spaces we can only dream of visiting.

Andrew says “I want to find them and hold them up as inspiring models. To show what’s possible in a learning space and encourage educators to think more creatively about the spaces we create for learning. I want to use them as we go forward and remake our learning spaces to better meet the changing needs of our students.”

I want to find beautiful learning spaces and elevate the conversation of what space and environment does for learning behaviour, community culture and collective inspiration. I want to see what happens when beautiful learning spaces are everywhere and we as students and educators are co-designing those spaces. How we we become involved in the conversation of what beautiful learning spaces look like? Understand how they affect us and how we use them?