How Is Research Informing Classroom Design in the 21st Century?

Road map to the future

Road sign to the 21st Century classroom

“Serious lessons must be learnt from history’

(Schratzenstaller “The Classroom of the Past” 2010, page 35)

One should always learn from their past…isn’t that how the saying goes??

Research has shown that classrooms of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries share a connection even though their aesthetics and functionality differ remarkably. Designers and educators are now strongly questioning the designs of classrooms and the need to share functional requirements with the aesthetic needs of the learner which are always shadowed by the three major factors of “the economy , parents and politics…” (Schratzenstaller “The Classroom of the Past” 2010, page 35)

Research has also shown that in the past the “aesthetic” response and “design knowledge” that children naturally have seems to be “pushed to the side” to cater for adult needs and requirements. “In the large literature on environmental quality, relatively few works attempt to understand how people feel about space and place, to take into account the different modes of experience (sensorimotor, tactile, visual, conceptual), and to interpret space and place as images of complex—often ambivalent—feelings” (Yi-Fu Tuan).

This has been progressively becoming obvious in the classroom often based merely on functionality, costs, and availability of resources and equipment. The disturbing element is that it has “…changed relatively little in the last 150 years” (MacGregor, 2004a, page 15)

But as the research is developing, what is becoming clear is that the educators’ role can somehow support that of the designer and the creator of an effective learning classroom space. “The Classroom of the Future (Schratzenstaller “The Classroom of the Past” 2010) aims to bring together theorists and practitioners from various domains who join efforts to adapt to the classroom to that which it can be expected to resemble in the 21st century (Schratzenstller “The Classroom of the Past” 2010 ).

The classroom ultimately needs to be a place of high learning levels and therefore it can be deduced that…the plan of school buildings depends on the method of tuition (Filmer-Sankey, 2003, pg 222) The method of tuition in the 21st century is becoming highly IT based. Designs of the 21st century must allow IT to “naturally fit in”. The designs must allow for technology to be brought into the school. To be a “natural part of the learning environment”.

However, in all this, there was and always will always be a “reality” factor ie the economy, the politics, the funding, the current economic climate, the global “picture” of the time and so on. It is common acceptance that “Economic streamlining entered the back door…(Schratzenstaller page 39)

The time for independent assessment and planning of design of a learning space is gone. “The school building was no longer to be prestigious but rather comfortable and at the same time functionally conform to new pedagogic concepts” (Schratzenstaller) and therefore, the need for “Cooperation between architecture and pedagogy” (Schratzenstaller “The Classroom of the Past” 2010, page 38).

The reflections deduced from the included readings were that, in the past, not enough design knowledge was being replicated in the classroom designs so as to make them aesthetically pleasing AND high areas of learning spaces for children. As for the present and the future, these should be, arguably, considered a motivating vision for EVERY child’s education in the 21st century.


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