• Creating Classrooms for the Curious, from Trondheim to Hong Kong

    Humans are born with curiosity – but it grows and shapes us all in different ways. As architects, we're responsible for designing the environments that nurture creativity and curiosity. So what's the secret? 

  • We read our surroundings for cues on what to explore and how to do it, shaping the scope of our wonder for the world. Curiosity is fundamental to Henning Larsen, and learning spaces are key to the way Henning Larsen brings curiosity into the world. As we create spaces for learning, so too can we set the tone for how young minds develop a perspective toward the world around them. In 60 years of designing learning spaces, Henning Larsen’s work has reflected many new developments in education: Shifting classroom layouts, rising emphasis on collaboration and physicality, democratizing classroom structures, the advent of online classrooms. Though the form and function of Henning Larsen’s learning spaces have evolved over six decades of history, the commitment to curiosity remains.

    The very first design competition that the studio won was the Klostermark School in Roskilde, Denmark, in 1960. Inaugurated five years later, the school exemplified trends that would continue to define Henning Larsen’s learning spaces: An emphasis on communal areas, a strong visual connection between students between classrooms, and a close relationship with the natural environment. As the studio’s first won design competition, the Klostermark School would later take on a special significance given that Henning Larsen himself, and many early members of the studio, were themselves educators. Henning Larsen was a professor of architecture at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts between 1968 and 1995.

    While architecture shapes the physical framework for learning, architects also gain insight from the way educators and students engage with their environment. This emerges through dialogue, translating teachers’ perspectives and wishes into tailored, real-world dimensions. For Nina La Cour Sell, Partner at Henning Larsen, designing learning spaces requires innovation on both sides of the conversation.

    “Our spatial plans and social ideals for a learning environment really depends on forward-thinking educators who are willing to explore new physical settings for learning, or adapting their teaching to innovative settings. This requires lots of continued education for all and enthusiasm from users,” La Cour Sell says. “We often see that users come up with even more unexpected ways of using our spaces, once they start to claim it as their own space. We’ve seen entire classes migrate out to outdoor balconies, or atria and outdoor areas being used in ways that we hadn’t imagined during the design process. It’s always great to see how a new space inspires people’s creativity to sit, study or teach differently.”

    Our social ideals for learning environments really depend on forward-thinking educators...It’s always great to see how a new space inspires people’s creativity to sit, study or teach differently. 

    In the years since early landmarks such as the 1978 Trondheim University Dragvoll campus or the 1988 CBS Dalgas Have campus, Henning Larsen’s learning spaces have continued to answer emerging trends in education, new technologies and architectural innovations. The contemporary school brings learning beyond the classroom, suggesting a shifting pedagogical philosophy that refocuses learning spaces as open, broadly accessible community hubs. 

    “Our recent projects suggest that learning happens everywhere – there is much less ‘dead floor space’ today, compared to the traditional model of dedicated classrooms connected by empty corridors that simply took people from A to B. This new flexibility means the learning space is less tied to a physical structure, extending further into the surrounding city and community,” La Cour Sell says.

    In the past year, Henning Larsen opened new learning spaces across the world, from a new university business school in Cincinnati, Ohio to an elementary school in Hong Kong. Throughout its 60 year legacy, Henning Larsen created the conditions for curiosity – Encouraging young learners to explore the possibilities around them through physical space. For Nina La Cour Sell, learning spaces’ impact on children and young adults are one of the strongest opportunities to communicate values through architecture.

    “Designing learning spaces isn’t just about shaping children’s attitudes to learning – It’s about shaping their attitude to society and how to share space. Young people’s minds and moods are inspired and shaped through their environment and the people they meet. Getting exposure to generous and inviting spaces during your early years shapes what you expect from your surroundings when you grow up – whether it’s in your home, school, office or city,” La Cour Sell says. “This is why creating spaces for children are the projects that makes the most sense in terms of shaping tomorrow’s minds, helping shape how these minds will continue to expect and create quality spaces where people thrive in the future.”

     

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