School or Workplace?

In designing schools, we often look to what’s happening in the field of workplace design.  The reason for this is two-fold. First, providing students learning spaces that reflect their future potential work environments can be an important part of real-world inquiry-based learning.  Second, much of what goes on in a creative workplace parallels what happens in creative learning environments (collaboration on group projects, individual research and analysis, listening, making things, getting along with others…), so it stands to reason that the spaces, furnishings, and equipment necessary to support these activities would, at some level, be similar.

For these reasons, two articles that came across my twitter feed last week are of particular interest to me.

The first, an announcement of the winners of the Workplace of the Future 2.0 Design Competition, provides design thinking that “imagines what our work lives will be like in the next 10-15 years”. The headline alone is intriguing enough (“The Workplace of the Future Will Have Sky Gardens to Harvest Your Lunch”), but there are many interesting ideas here, all of which put the well-being of the users at the forefront of design.

If we translate those ideas into the school environment, the future could include:

  1. Indoor gardens to provide fresh food for students as well as cooling and acoustic buffering.
  2. Walls and furnishings that can be easily reconfigured by the students.
  3. Wearable technology to monitor a student’s health and suggest lifestyle changes or physical activities.
  4. Spaces that balance the needs of both introverted and extroverted students for quiet reflection as well as group interaction.
  5. Portable classrooms deployed throughout a community for remote learning.
  6. Contact lenses that create collaborative virtual reality spaces. (In 10 years?  Why not?)
  7. Merged environments that accommodate both schools and office buildings.
  8. School on a bus. (Yes, a bus that’s a school, not a bus to get you to school.)
School or workplace?  Vashon Island High School Study Commons (Photo- Lara Swimmer)

School or workplace? Vashon Island High School Study Commons
(Photo- Lara Swimmer)

The second article, Tech Aesthetics, asks the question: What do the offices of tech giants tell us about the future of work?  This article may be less relevant to the future of school design. Still, it IS a good read, a brief romp through the recent history of office design and a bit of a cautionary tale about excess.

Its conclusion, or at least its postulate of one possible future of the office is worth pondering when thinking about the future of school design:

Maybe then the workspace (Learning Environment) of the future will come full circle… it will be a module in a home, networked virtually… atomised and dispersed across billions of homes spread across the planet.

Will technology drive into obsolescence the need for large structures that contain groups of children learning together?  I don’t think so, but it’s an interesting question to ponder: Will we even have school buildings in the future?

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