School districts and educational institutions of all kinds have, like all of us, been forced to adjust their model in an instant, reacting to the immediate need for social distancing to protect the health of their communities. It’s not a matter of if we make long-term adjustments, but a matter of how.
As architects and designers, we view the current challenges through the lens of physical space, which plays an essential role in the success of students, teachers and administrators alike. The experts in our Education Practice have developed the following predictions for how the education market will plan and use their space differently in the future.
As online learning increases so will opportunities that provide flexible learning strategies. Distance learning will become a common option for students of all levels and could change how a student determines their path based on their unique lifestyle and requirements at any given moment. Large gathering of students within an auditorium or lecture hall will only be one option for instruction, presenting the concept of a flexible learning environment that fits each student’s needs to learn at their own pace, in various settings and around their specific schedules. For higher education this hybrid class type can address the financial constraints facing many students today and provide a solution that is more palatable.
As institutions require less physical space for large quantities of parking and student amenities, they can seek out smaller spaces that accommodate specific learning environments and are embedded into the community of the students that they serve. Similar to how today’s workforce has left behind offices for a multipurpose, co-operative and mixed-use environment, college settings will follow suit, with courses being conducted in the comforts of the local coffee shop.
Advances in technology paired with the forced acceleration of distance learning will push design of educational spaces to focus on adaptability and flexibility. These spaces will be used in varying ways such as individual learning and large group settings as needed based on the curriculum, changes in teaching methods and individual learning preferences. For PreK-12 schools in 1940s and 1950s buildings, this will mean taking more innovative approaches to retrofitting existing space. As many corporations have adopted modular furniture, so too can learning environments, utilizing workstations, seating, storage and space division solutions that provide flexibility.
Changes will be made to the Career & Technology Education (CTE) curriculum and opportunities for distance learning will be created to allow for these hands-on vocational classes to be supported by more than just classroom teachers. CTE centers will leverage corporate partnerships within industrial, construction and automotive industries to further develop student skills and provide a clear path for workforce entry.
How can we design educational space in a healthier way? Colleagues specializing in Lab Design have identified cleanroom best practices that can be applied in non-scientific spaces to vastly reduce the transmission of viruses and kill bacteria. Some examples include:
There’s no doubt that today’s educational architecture will forever be changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our focus needs to be on delivering holistic approaches that look at space differently and prioritize health and safety while continuing to inspire students, teachers and administration.