The Pivotal Role of Architecture in the Future of K12

Many schools today are decades old and haven’t undergone a major redesign since they were originally built. A lot has changed since then, making these traditional styled classrooms much better suited for passive learning. Not a very good fit for today’s more active, hands-on learning approaches. But how should architecture adapt?

Designing for the Needs of Students

Today’s students need the knowledge, skills and mentalities to be successful in the complex future that awaits them. Specifically, they must learn to work and thrive in an increasingly connected economy that revolves around problem solving, collaboration and creativity.

What does this have to do with architecture? While the architecture of schools is not an answer to transformation in and of itself, school design represents a huge opportunity for both designing and supporting the habits of successful schools.

We all know that people learn differently from one another. So why do our classrooms all look the same? In learner-driven spaces, architecture should support collaboration among groups of students and educators, with plenty of space for inquiry and hands-on learning such as maker-spaces, and lots of space for students to move around and be active.

Lots of Daylight

Daylight in schools is something we’ve touched on in previous blog posts. But since we’re on the topic of the future of K12, we feel the need to bring it up again. The increase in student performance is significant when increasing the amount of natural light. Daylight has proven effects on increasing happiness and the ability to concentrate.

A report published in the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities, states that “students with limited classroom daylight were outperformed by those with the most natural light by 20% in math and 26% on reading tests.”

Those are some serious numbers, and we feel that it’s our job as K12 architects to both acknowledge them and act on them. Natural light has proven to be a significant factor in happiness and performance in the workplace and at home, and we need to begin bringing daylight back into schools through smartly designed spaces.

What Does the Future Hold?

We can’t predict the future, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to better school design; each school has its own goals and challenges that it must design for. However, the common refrain of a more “personalized,” healthy future for students helps us think about the broader needs of learners, and the specific spatial qualities that support that mindset shift.

Innovative school design isn’t simply about knocking down walls and making spaces flexible; it’s about creating a variety of spaces that cater to specific learning needs, and providing a safe and healthy environment where kids feel valued. It’s about investing in healthy, environmentally-conscious schools that will inspire the future generation.

With so much effort going into changing teaching and learning practices, we think it’s about time we rethink how our physical school buildings need to change too.