School design must implement more collaborative spaces, says experts

Industry experts share their views on the necessity to design more collaborative interiors for the generations to come.

By 2017, there will be more than 196 private educational institutions in the UAE with a capacity of 341,000 students, while the country’s goal is to provide 360,000 school places by 2020. Commercial Interior Design talks to regional experts about the newest and most interesting trends in designing learning facilities for the upcoming generation.

Ben Woods, general manager of furniture company OFIS, explains that although the UAE is a preferential educational destination, much of the market relies on traditional ROTE learning, and does not take into account the need for flexibility and creativity.

“Most classrooms today are still arranged in the traditional style with row-by-row seating and stationary furniture developed in the 19th and 20th centuries, leaving little room for creative growth,” says Woods. “Given the huge impact the physical environment has on behaviour, reconsideration must be given to current learning environments, and the level of connectivity and tech-savviness of young students today. Lecturing styles must give way to class discussions and group learning.”

Results of a recent study conducted by Steelcase Education, one of the brands OFIS represents, showed that students reported that a change in classroom design with more flexible space enhanced their creativity and increased engagement and motivation.

Woods continues: “The research also showed 98% of students reported being more engaged in classroom activities; 88% of students said new, flexible classroom design increased their motivation to attend class; and 68% of students said the innovative classroom would increase their ability to achieve a higher grade.”

The user behaviour of learning environments has changed rapidly in recent years due to technological advancements, expectations of the new generation of learners, need for 21st century job skills and the rise of active learning, according to Woods. The company has recently supplied Node Chair from Steelcase to the University of Dubai, Zayed University and also the American University of Sharjah as well as Interface carpet tiles to MBR University and Kent College.

“Some of the more interesting design directions we are witnessing are those which consider a more flexible environment offering the use of different zones and furniture, affording users the flexibility to shift between learning modes, save time and keep the user engaged in their own learning journey. More and more learning spaces are also becoming technologically enabled in order to appeal to the new generation of tech-savvy and connected students,” says Woods.

Andy Morris, Steelcase regional sales director for the Middle East, explains that back health, blood flow, and even neuroscience, are all taken into account when designing products for education.

“We recently launched the Brody Lounge (Brain + Body) which is a product dedicated to users who need focus and concentration, while ensuring their posture is healthy and comfortable,” he says. “The Node chair was also created for the many modes of working. Designed to ‘Move, Fit, Store, Connect’, the Node chair promotes a highly adaptive learning environment to accommodate any teaching style. The swivel seat accommodates both left and right-handed students and gives the freedom to shift focus throughout the room.”

Searching for regional educational institutions that not only provide knowledge, but also prompt inspiration, we feature in this issue both the Swiss International School in Dubai, designed by Swiss Bureau as well as Ladybird Learning Centre designed by GAJ. Globally, we reached out to Marianne Girard, director of Montreal-based Taktik design, who was in charge of design at the recently opened Sainte-Anne Academy in Dorval, Canada, which designers refer to as “The school of tomorrow”.

“Designing an elementary school of tomorrow in an 11,150m2 heritage building built in 1896 — that’s the challenge Sainte-Anne Academy gave to us,” explains Girard. “From room layout to furniture design to communications, this innovative project was undertaken by our industrial, interior and graphic designers. After we proposed the initial solutions, we were given carte blanche to create an efficient environment that accommodates the latest teaching standards. The fun-filled environment at the academy was designed with kids in mind; the space is a blank canvas for their creativity.”

Drawing on innovative international teaching methods, designers opened up the spaces to create relevant connections between functions while allowing more light into the heart of the school. Incorporating thematic rooms, like a greenhouse and a theatre, Girard says the design supports the teachers in their work and the educational programme overall.

Reserach: The effect of ambient light on learning

If people are more alert and perform better in good ambient light at work – what might this mean for schools? Scheduled teaching and a well-defined work place – the classroom – make schools a perfect environment for studying the effect of lighting on students’ performance and well-being. This is why Fagerhult conducted a year-long research study at a middle school in London.

The aim of this research was to investigate how students were affected by working in a classroom with more ambient light. For the study, Fagerhult’s team set the lighting in a test classroom where the mean value of the ambient light aimed at the ceiling and wall surfaces was approximately 300 lux. The light on the calculation plane – the work desk – was 500 lux as before. The room was also equipped with daylight and presence detectors to optimise energy consumption.

The pupils’ performance, alertness and well-being (visual, biological and emotional) were then studied over a school year with the help of interviews and cortisol measurements. The results were then compared with pupils who followed the same school timetable in an identical classroom with standard lighting.

According to Fagerhult’s results, pupils in the classroom with more ambient light both felt better and worked harder. They had lower levels of sleep hormones and were therefore more alert during the darker months of the year. These pupils also achieved better school results in mathematics, reading and writing throughout the entire school year, and this improvement was especially noticeable during the darker part of the year.

Inspiring spaces: Nightingale Primary Academy

Nightingale Primary Academy in Leeds, UK is part of the Co-operative Academies Trust. It opened in September 2015 and by 2020 the school will accommodate 420 children. UK-based furniture manufacturer Bisley delivered a complete furniture package to Nightingale – including cupboards, bookcases, bean bags, mats, folding tables and chairs for the canteen, soft seating as well as classroom tables and chairs.

“We’re really pleased the variety of bold colours on our furniture is drawing the children in and helping improve productivity, communication and learning. It’s good to know we’ve provided such an exciting environment for the children and teachers,” says Onhan Baysoy, head of sales at Bisley Middle East.

Sarah Woodland, head of school, says they were looking for furniture that fits in its specific, and sometimes restricted spaces.

“Everyone loves the beanbags,” she says. “They give the children a personal space to read quietly which they might not always get at home and they also allow teachers to work with children in a relaxed way .”

Master Builders Solutions by BASF

BASF and its Master Builders Solutions brand provide flooring solutions for schools, colleges, universities and kindergartens. Apart from the low maintenance cost, this flooring is available in a wide range of colours, but also meets technical and environmental standards. BASF’s MasterTop 1325REG flooring reduces impact noise. Similarly, MasterTop 1327 cuts vertical sound by 15 to 18dB. BASF’s antistatic floor range prevents the undesirable accumulation of static electricity and is ideal for rooms where scientific experiments are carried out with flammable materials and for rooms with electrical equipment.

Trea chair by Humanscale

Trea, designed by Todd Bracher, one of Humanscale latest chairs, offers a variety of functions and meets multiple requirements. It has a range of options and potential uses, from guest seating to conference to desk.

Verb by Steelcase

Steelcase launched an adaptable table-based collection of classroom furniture, called Verb, addressing the issue of formerly inflexible desk systems. Verb creates an integrated, table-based learning space with personal-sized whiteboards throughout the classroom for collaboration. The whiteboards provide a note-taking surface for students during group projects and serve as space dividers during examinations to ensure privacy.