Rethinking Education Spaces for the Future
Rethinking Education Spaces for the Future

Rethinking Education Spaces for the Future

The education landscape is changing—quickly, dramatically, and quite possibly forever. Enrollment, funding sources, physical infrastructure, and classroom design are all in flux, making it difficult to plan for the short- and long-term. And while higher education and K12 each face their own set of design challenges, they are equally at risk. As a result, education spaces need to be adapted, and in some cases, completely reconfigured for the future of learning.

We’ve been having candid discussions with our academic and campus planning clients to talk through scenarios and possible solutions to questions like these.

What We’re Hearing:

  • Our space is already tight—how do we create classrooms with flex capabilities now?
  • If we stagger schedules, is that enough?
  • What about the hallways? How should we reconfigure the flow?
  • Should we renovate our existing spaces, or should we build new?
  • How do we encourage social distancing on our buses, in cafeterias, in stadiums?
  • How do we design spaces for flexibility – ones that will allow us to change on-the-fly?
  • How can we rethink our spaces to be more equitable?
  • How are we going to host and transport students safely in the fall?

So much change might feel daunting, but adaptation doesn’t have to be extreme. Here are a few strategies for reconfiguring your education spaces with an emphasis on learning, health and wellness.

Opt for Classrooms with Flex Power

The traditional classroom was changing before the pandemic. But now, as schools seek safety, equity, and an effective learning environment for all students, the parameters and requirements look different. In the short-term, there’s an immediate need to restructure existing classrooms to accommodate fewer students. Movable walls, mobile screens, flexible furniture, wireless access to technology, interior transparency for passive supervision and vinyl wayfinding signage to aid social distancing can help. In the long-term, we have the opportunity to create non-fixed structures in education spaces to allow for flexibility as needed.

What will happen to collaboration with these modifications? We believe the trend toward collaborative spaces for inquiry-based learning is not going away—these spaces will just need to function differently. For years we have been pushing to see more collaborative spaces and fewer “cells and bells.” Why? For our higher ed clients, this approach promotes interdisciplinary education, allowing a variety of departments to come together in a way that was not feasible before. In fact, new programs and Colleges even are being created through these combinations, with the space being informed in tandem with needs of these new programs.

Take It Outside

Outdoor learning spaces have always been beneficial—unfortunately, they are often eliminated from project plans due to limited resources. It’s time to rethink that approach. Open-air options are more viable and critical than ever: programmed outdoor classroom spaces, outdoor labs, reading gardens, courtyards, outdoor pools and water features, vegetable and flower gardens, green roofs, balance apparatus, amphitheaters, shade structures, and nature trails.

What’s more, these outdoor educational spaces can also promote sustainability, with stormwater rain gardens, rainwater harvesting, native and easy to maintain landscape planting and much more. Additionally, studies show that connecting with nature helps to support physical and mental well-being. This is especially important for early childhood education where play is an integral part of learning and socialization.

Incorporate New Technologies

As we’ve seen with school security upgrades, new technologies can also be integrated into education spaces to promote health and safety. Temperature-reading cameras to screen students upon entry, automatic door openers, classroom audio enhancement systems, and adaptable sensors to track density and utilization rates can help to curb the spread of germs, as can door-less entries for group toilets and other spaces that don’t need to be secured. Schools and universities can also opt for more push/pull doors (without latches or handles) to avoid unnecessary touching and more sanitation stations, which can be distributed throughout schools and universities to minimize risks of exposure for both teachers and students.

Rethink Underutilized Space

There is an immediate need to de-densify existing spaces—ideally without having to sacrifice square footage dedicated to actual educational activities. One solution is to design common spaces to serve multiple purposes. For example, the dining room or cafeteria of the future could become a multi-functional space: a cafeteria for mealtime, a school commons in between meals, and an auditorium after school. Or it might consist of multiple smaller cafes instead of one large dining room, which can be used for learning or collaboration as needed. Such a configuration can help to limit the spread of disease since a consistent community of learners uses their smaller, designated cafe instead of everyone sharing a large dining room.