Absolutely. Places for learning, whether at the primary or higher education level – can have tremendous, measurable effects on our ability to learn. People’s minds and moods are inspired and shaped by their environment and the people they meet. Through our in house PhD program, we’ve conducted many studies around learning environments, covering everything from simple table groups supporting group work to the indoor climate (the level of daylight and ventilation.) Some things are very clear: the accessibility to outdoor areas, the flow between classrooms and the use of ‘in between spaces’ all matter enormously. It is always great to see how a new space inspires people’s creativity to sit, study or teach differently.
It is especially important to consider at the university level, where so much learning happens outside of the classroom between students. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a perfectly lit and ventilated space when you work at home, you miss out on the variation and social aspects that students really do need to succeed. Learning can happen everywhere, but it’s really about having options.
The possibility to meet and work across faculties and levels will attract not just the best students from around the world, but also the best faculty, researchers, and visitors. It’s here that architects can help. Architecture can in the great scheme of things helps brand the university and create identity, but on a smaller scale it can create exactly those surroundings that make students feel like staying on campus grounds for longer hours – leading to more social interaction and a more active and attractive campus. It is a cycle that kicks off with the design process.
Campuses will be more holistic, catering for more needs and with a greater variety of facilities than they do today. Our recent projects emphasize the fact that learning happens everywhere. Schools and universities today have much less dead space than traditional schools, which were largely just single-use classrooms connected by corridors intended only to take people from A to B. Learning together and from each other, the serendipitous connections between faculties – these connections are a big part of the value of universities. It is also something that we can facilitate through architecture even more.
Universities are, in a way, small cities. Their scale, their ability to attract and gather people from all over the world, even their complexity of management – these are also the hallmarks of cities. It is no wonder universities are hotspots for innovation regardless of where they are placed. We are currently working on an innovation campus at Harvard, a globally-renowned hub for learning and innovation, but have seen the same spirit in places all over the world, from Trondheim to Brisbane.
Part of it is that there has been an increased requirement in the market for qualifying and quantifying design. Being able to argue for specific decisions/solutions and their proved benefits. Our ability to merge what we do best – beautiful design that is conscious of its context with relevant and groundbreaking PhD research – has given us extra firepower. This is promising for the future since, as with each project we build on existing knowledge and are able to expand or adapt very specialized knowledge into new schemes. I cannot wait to see what the next 10 years bring!