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Lessons from Scandinavian schools

A two-week journey across several Scandinavian and European countries has given Peddle Thorp’s CEO Brett Hudson new ideas about how to create spaces that promote learning.

8 March 2016
By Brett Hudson

Peddle Thorp CEO Brett Hudson was one of a group of Australian architects and educators who took part in a study tour in February organised by the Association for Learning Environments.

“Valuing unstructured spaces as much as structured ones to support learning and engagement was a key feature of many of the schools, colleges and libraries we visited,” he said.

“Education is changing. There’s a growing recognition that students absorb information by doing: working with classmates, independent exploration and self-directed activities – not just being talked at by an instructor,” Brett said.

“When you accept that learning can and should occur anywhere within a building, then corridors, walkways, stairs and outdoor seating become an integral part of that.”

The study tour group gained an intimate look into how well-designed buildings help to achieve better learning outcomes.

“We experienced the schools with the students in class. Some of our tours were conducted by teachers and some by the students themselves. We had lunch with the students at two schools to experience their environment and talk further with them about what they like about their schools”

The interactions offered insights about people’s everyday experience of spaces, and helped to reinforce the practical value of design concepts that are developed in collaboration with the schools to meet the needs of their particular teaching methodology.

“One senior college in Denmark (Orestad Gymnasium) was built entirely on the premise of openness. It doesn’t emphasise traditional classrooms but instead has four open plan zones across four floors connected by a wide, spiral staircase, and with a few special nooks for creativity and social activity.”

“It was illuminating to see how teachers at the college conducted classes in the large open spaces: they gave students an overarching goal, and the students then broke out into smaller areas to do specific tasks such as online research, writing and collaborative brainstorming,” he said.

Peddle Thorp has worked with many education and government clients that were cognisant of the need to provide multi-purpose collaboration spaces. This is particularly evident in our university sector projects and more recently in schools and public libraries we have recently completed.

“We’ve always paid attention to the way that people’s comfort and ability to move around a building influences the way they interact with each other,” he said.

“We know clients genuinely wish to foster collaboration and we’ve worked with them to realise that—but I think we can go further in terms of creative communal spaces that inspire the users.

“In Australia there’s a strong sense that a collective process is important in learning and building more cohesive communities - and more people now understand that purposeful design can reflect and shape that process.

“Having seen how a reduced reliance on structured classrooms can actually work, I’m excited by the prospect of creating engaging spaces that support contemporary teaching and learning approaches.”