Category Archives: Learning spaces

Getting back to basics

When you have been involved in a major project over time it is possible for the imperatives that drove you to it in the first place to become indistinct in the sheer effort of bringing it off. I was forcefully reminded of these imperatives during today’s workshop on design thinking with Ewan McIntosh and Tom Barrett from NoTosh at the BLC 12 preconference programme. Our group worked through the question: “How might we play with the notion of time in our school” and one conclusion we agreed on is that it is crucial to have learning spaces that enable learning in a variety of contexts. Learning is enabled in different settings (classrooms, small meeting rooms, specialist areas) and spaces for that learning need to be available over different timescales (short lessons, long term display and thinking areas).

Since its striking structure emerged over the course of its construction the Mabel Fidler Building at Ravenswood School the focus has been on its appearance. Its selection for the AIA award, the Sulman medal, has drawn further discussion of this about its design. However, as I was reminded powerfully today, it was not primarily aesthetics that drove this building project but the extent to which it embodied ideas about education.

The Mabel Fidler Building puts the library, or learning resources centre, at the heart of the campus and at its main entrance. It has spaces that allow learning to take place in different settings suitable to the activities in which students are engaged. The key to the design of educational buildings is to allow choices to be made by students and teachers by providing a range of spaces. These may be the traditional classroom, areas for small group work, for self-directed leaning or for large group activities. The building enables a whole range of overlapping learning, recreational and physical activities in a structure that is essentially a shell, able to be adapted to other uses over time. Integration of technology into these spaces is also a vital aspect of this design.

The pace of change in education makes it very difficult to plan buildings that will continue to be useful to schools in the future. Who knows in twenty years time whether the school day will look the way it does today? Ideally we should be planning and building school facilities with a view to possible future uses that may as yet not have been contemplated.

Designing learning spaces

The recognition given to the design and construction of Ravenswood’s Mabel Fidler Building over the past week has been wonderful.

On Thursday evening, 28 July, Ravenswood School for Girls – BVN Architecture was awarded the Sulman Medal which is awarded annually by the NSW Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects for an architectural work of outstanding merit.

Structural engineers TTW and Ravenswood School for Girls also won a High Commendation Award for Large Buildings in the Australian Institute of Steel Awards.

While this public recognition is great to receive, most rewarding has been seeing our students using the building since its opening in August last year. It has fulfilled the school’s objectives of: creating flexible learning spaces; knitting the campus together and establishing a new entry point and hub for the school.

Key elements in the project
A school principal has few if any opportunities to lead a project that represents such an investment for the school and that has the potential to make such a difference. Looking back there were three key factors in the successful design of this project:

1. Time for planning, design and building
There were five years from the inception of this project, originally known as “the hub” to completion of the Mabel Fidler building.

2. Careful choice of the team to work on the project
We ran a limited design competition to select the architects for the building. In fact it was not specifically the design presented that led to our choice of architects but rather a combination of their willingness to listen to our ideas for the kinds of learning spaces we wanted and their understanding of good design for educational facilities.

Educators know how important collaboration is to learning for our students. Finding a team of architects who listened to us and worked closely and collaboratively with us was vital.

We were very lucky that our team included a member of school council, an architect, who gave substantially of her time and brought expertise and passion to the project.

3. Research into the design of learning spaces
It is really useful to read about other projects, preferably to visit completed buildings or even just to look at images of these.
The Edutopia website was initially a great resource
Today information about design of spaces and learning abounds. The CEFPI website is a good place to start:

It is an exciting and changing educational landscape that we are living in. As we plan buildings today we must be mindful of the impact our decisions will have on students and teachers in the future. Flexibility in design, ensuring technological capability and creating spaces that enable teachers and students to choose the space best suited for particular learning activities are all part of the process of good school design.