At Propel Studio, we think a lot about the role design plays in learning and education. We imagine many architects do the same. This is because, as architects we don’t just accept the way things are or the way things have always been done. We’re trained to see possibilities; to think about how we can make things better.
That’s why we relish the opportunity to be a part of the process of thinking about, discussing, and designing ways architecture can impact learning.
The team at Propel Studio is inspired by ideas like Integrated Curriculum. We love the opportunity to discuss topics like this, but we want to take it even another step further.
Let’s not only talk about how to integrate studies across subject matters in order to discover important connections. Let’s also talk about how to integrate learning, playing, and exploring with the physical design of our buildings and outdoor spaces. Architecture itself can actually become a tool for teaching and learning.
We’ve enjoyed the opportunity to engage with Portland-area Parent-Teacher organizations and public schools like Vernon Elementary and Vestal Elementary to create visions of outdoor classrooms and covered play areas. These are places that will encourage kids to get outside and do activities in fresh air and learn from the natural environment around them. They are spaces that will create connections between what students read in a book and what’s crawling around on the ground outside.
We’re inspired by projects like Tezuka Architects’ “Ring Around A Tree School” in Tokyo. It’s a place where kids are safe and secure and encouraged by both teachers and the building design, to explore. In this example, the architecture becomes the playground, and the children are free to climb, run and interact with the building in playful creative ways. It gets them to think creatively and look at their environment in new ways.
In our minds, like the Ring Around A Tree School, architecture should trigger the senses and develop occupational familiarity with 3D space. Movement and playing in 3 dimensions should happen indoors and outdoors. As children play, they learn to cooperate, share, take turns and communicate with their peers. Our designs should create buildings and landscapes that integrate the inside and the outside with the curriculum and the life experience.
The last thing we want to do is a design a box to contain teachers and students and then select generic, prefabricated play equipment to place in the middle of a mulch bed. We can and should do better, and a collaborative design approach can lead to inspiring new school designs.
As architects, it’s our job to design safe, healthy and responsive buildings. As school architects, why can’t we create safe, healthy places for kids to explore? Why can’t we create places where the learning, the experience and the designed environment are all integrated as one - where the school’s architecture becomes integrated into the educational curriculum?