The Planning Process: Three Steps to Successful Educational Environments
Kurt Lewin’s psychological equation of behavior describes human behavior as a function of both people and the environment in which they interact. In this case, environment means much more than the built space we design as architects, but also encompasses operational/organization structures, social norms, pedagogies in place and the technologies utilized. Thus, architecture must fit into the equation, not drive it. Each time DLR Group commences a new planning process, we dive into all elements that impact this equation to help craft our design.
In a recent workshop I facilitated with EdTech Austin, we compacted what could be a multi-month planning process into one hour, including the following steps:
- Research. DLR Group believes Evidence-Based Design (EBD) has a crucial place in educational design. In addition to incorporating EBD, we embed secondary research into our design process. I kicked off the EdTech Austin workshop with a broad overview of research available linking the design of space to various measures such as academic improvement, cognitive function, and student engagement.
- Know Your Activities. In its simplest form, a good design must make the user’s desired activities possible and easy. In education today, “activities” directly link to the pedagogical vision of the school at hand. We often spend time with clients discussing their educational vision, completely separate from the built environment.
- Align with Space. Once we know the activities that the built environment must support, we can then discuss a variety of spatial and furniture solutions. There is not a one-to-one alignment between activities and a certain space type. Corridors, for example, are no longer used just for movement but can be an extension of the learning environment. Stairs can be designed to also support socializing or presentations. A dynamic relationship exists involving design intent of a space, inherent perceived affordances, and the integration of furniture and technology.
Despite the quick timeline, EdTech Austin workshop participants worked in groups to envision a school, define the learning activities, and create a supportive space. One solution included an interactive community hub at the center linking to a flexible classroom space for critiquing, peer review, and presentations; an area with quiet booths and technology for individual inquiry; and a makerspace for hands-on creating. All of these were surrounded by outdoor play and learning opportunities. What we accomplished in one day was inspiring. I hope every participant walked away with an understanding of what can be achieved when we follow a simple process and work together to arrive at the solution.