• Seven strategies for schools in the digital age

    21 October 2017

    “Schools began with a man under a tree, who did not know he was a teacher, sharing his realization with a few, who did not know they were students.” – Louis Kahn (1901-1974), Architect & Philosopher

    Lau Ming Wai Academic Building, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

    The earliest schools were students collected under the shade of a tree: places where knowledge sharing was part of daily life. Schools are places where knowledge and skills are acquired – places where students learn through studying, practicing, listening and communicating.  But as social institutions began to rise, schools were turned into economically efficient “square boxes”.

    We are now in the digital age, where knowledge is readily available at the touch of a button. It is time to rethink the purpose and value of schools and their relevance to society.

    We revisited the original purpose of studying and the original values of schools, then compared these principles with the new ways of learning in the digital age. After our learning journey, we devised seven strategies that we believe should be incorporated into the design and execution of future learning spaces:

    1/ Students as performers

    The “stage” should now belong to the students. We should design schools that are composed of “stage sets”, where students can express their true identities. There should be no boundaries between classrooms and circulation spaces – circulation spaces are crucial hubs for learning in the digital age.

    2/ Schools as small cities

    We should design schools that are reminiscent of towns or small cities, with plazas, main streets, cafés and town halls. Every design element should create the greatest possible number of social contacts, encounters, adventures and discoveries.

    New Campus for The Technological and Higher Education Institute of Hong Kong (THEi), Hong Kong

    3/ Every space is an event space

    The most effective places to conduct the exchange ideas are no longer classrooms, but campus corridors, cafés, amphitheatres and even playgrounds – places where people meet and socialize. As architects, we should provide sufficient spaces that can be shaped by and are conducive to communication, interaction, gatherings and events.

    4/ Form follows activity

    We should be aware of the types of activities that will be carried out in a particular space. We should then investigate the patterns of behaviours and interactions and design buildings around these activities.

    5/ Architecture as identity

    Places which seek to engage the hearts of students will create long-lasting memories for them and help them bond with their alma maters.

    6/ Learning in green

    Scientific studies prove that greenery within educational spaces is conducive to learning. As designers, we should not just make schools green in appearance – we should also ensure that their “souls” are green. Similarly, teaching and assimilating the concept of sustainability should not just come from books, but from the totality of the students’ educational experience.

    7/ Creating flexibility for future changes

    The traditional 7m x 7m “square box” classroom is rapidly becoming obsolete. Today’s students need classrooms that can cater to multiple purposes and have future flexibility built into them for learning modes that have yet to be developed.

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