August 18, 2015

Five leading-edge insights into today’s educational spaces

Young learners get hands-on at the New York Hall of Science.
Young learners get hands-on at the New York Hall of Science.

Every day, the boundaries of education are becoming more permeable. Learning is increasingly understood as an active and ongoing process that continues past the school bell, beyond the classroom walls, and into un-planned areas of our lives. The best contemporary learning environments embrace this shift, setting the framework for ever greater educational possibilities. Below, we share five insights that are helping our teams design leading-edge environments for today’s learners.

1. Developing the full student.
A growing interest in holistic student development lies at the heart of the debate over STEM, STEAM, or STREAM. While fitness and mindfulness may not yet have an acronym of their own, student wellness is just as vital a topic as 21st century problem solving skills. As a result, school athletic centers are playing an ever more prominent role in nurturing mind, body, and spirit. With their recently completed athletic and wellness center, NYC’s Convent of the Sacred Heart school demonstrates a clear commitment to all three.

2. Engaging children without being childish.
Children are becoming increasingly sophisticated about design in their own way, sensing qualities of scale, materiality, and adaptability as key components of a welcoming space. It is a great responsibility to design a child’s first home away from home, and critical to do so conscientiously. More than ever, children and their parents expect high standards of curriculum-building and space-making that each address and enrich a child’s unique sensory capacities. For visitors to the New York Hall of Science preschool garden, science lessons are conveyed through a dynamic landscape, which was designed with a child’s scale and cognitive stage in mind.

3. Building what you believe.
In working with The 52nd Street Project, we asked “how should the spaces of an acting school for Hell’s Kitchen’s kids feel?” Funky, raw, and forgiving. As the organization says, “the Project is not about teaching children to act, although they will learn to … It is about an opportunity to prove he or she has something of value to offer.” We heard them loud and clear, and the organization’s essential goals are now embodied in their facilities. The 52nd Street Project’s new home is an empowering and sophisticated urban clubhouse, wrapped around a world-class theater.

4. Re-imaging buildings as teaching tools.
Buildings talk to us. They tell us about how we live, gather, work and play. By conceiving of facilities as teaching tools that can communicate complex principles, highlight possibilities, and open the minds of learners, educational institutions are able to coax greater value out of their buildings. At the Queens Botanical Garden, a new visitor and administration center was intentionally designed to serve the functional, cultural, pedagogical, and sustainable needs of the Garden, tangibly demonstrating and reinforcing nature’s lessons for visitors.

5. Embracing the edges.
Like John Lennon’s vision that “life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans,” academic life is full of un-programmed time spent in-between classes – studying, eating, laughing, and … learning. These in-between moments, and the in-between spaces that frame them, are enriching and ought not to be overlooked. At New York Law School’s main library and academic center, enticing stairways and hallways offer circulation spaces that encourage interaction and create welcoming facades at building’s street edges.


To see more spaces that embrace the edge of learning, explore our most recent collection of projects:

Or click here to download the PDF directly.