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School Design: Creating a Community of Learners

It is now widely recognized that integration into an academic community is a critical element of student success. As such, education providers are increasingly focused on how to build ‘community’ on their campus that will lead to enhanced outcomes and enrich the student experience. Moreover, a sense of community goes a long way towards making the learning process pleasurable. The combination of dynamic student activities and vibrant gathering spaces where students can socialize, play, and restore, is vital to students’ health, well-being, and overall social development.

Architecture Counsel creates this sense of community through a careful arrangement of spaces, sensitive, and thoughtful approaches to the use of light, colour, flow, textures, and materials – all with a view to supporting students with an integrated approach to health, well-being, and joy. Our early thoughts typically focus on flow and nature, both of which are springboards to a holistic, calming experience that will enhance a student’s success. We explore means of blending inside and outside spaces through use of transparencies, as well as materials, and textures that are evocative of the natural world. Principles of biophilic design are embedded within our design from the earliest stages. Biophilic design nurtures a love of place. It is how we react to a shaft of sunlight coming through louvers, the interplay of light and shadow, and how certain colours, materials, and patterns evoke a sense of well-being. By satisfying our intrinsic inclination to affiliate with nature, biophilic design engenders an emotional attachment to spaces and places. These emotional attachments motivate community, performance, and productivity, and prompt us to identify with and sustain the places we inhabit.

We like to explore a framework with our clients that celebrates and supports neurodiversity. To design for the wide spectrum encompassed by neurodiversity, we approach projects from a place of empathy, seeking to understand the many ways children may experience and interact with the world around them. By thinking beyond one type of user, we can see more opportunities that may not otherwise have been considered in the creation of learning environments that are more inclusive and supportive to all students. In crafting the optimal school environment, it is essential to design to children’s senses. We aim to strike a delicate balance between inspiring and engaging them, without over-stimulating them. Spaces need to be well-organized, clutter-free, with clear circulation patterns and understandable wayfinding, while also factoring in the impact of lighting, acoustics, ventilation, colours, and materiality. Our goal is to empower young learners to navigate their schools with ease and confidence. 

We explore with our school clients the concept of ‘soft fascinations’ – scenes or objects that can be observed effortlessly to provide gentle distraction and relieve cognitive fatigue. Evidence supports the notion that visual and physical connections to nature are vital to human development and student success. Examples of soft fascinations can include leaves rustling in the wind, water running over pebbles, or clouds moving slowly across the sky. These moments to observe the natural world allow one to engage in a low-stimulation activity which reduces the internal noise and provides a quiet internal space to relax. Architecturally, creating spaces that interact with the natural world can include visual connections to the outside – natural light, outdoor spaces, programmed either formally or informally, use of natural materials and imagery, and elements that encourage physicality and stimulate a sense of connection to one’s body. 

Our objective is to craft an ensemble of memorable places that will shape a common and unifying experience for students, weaving elements together both artfully and logically to create comfortable program relationships and facilitate ease of use. The careful organization of spaces and programs leads naturally to inclusive participation in the larger web of activity within the building and fosters a sense of community.