Universal Sensory High School Architecture

2006 EU Communication Report stated that one of the urgent States Educational System challenges is to guarantee the height level quality of the applied Educational Model, while simultaneously ensuring the excellence in general level of skills for the expending earth population. Such task is generally assigned to the secondary and high school EU system. Growing need in the European labor force, have created demand for higher educated, well-rounded and socially interactive professionals, which already puts the system to test.

The common understanding for Universal High School is: one build upon acceptance of students’ variety and diversity. Its definite perception is always colored by the local characteristics, traditions and enriched with specific social values. Unfortunately political debates, constant financial dependency, and the need to achieve higher goals in the set curriculum, rules the architectural execution of high school buildings. The principle implemented is “form fallows function”, and quite often the function is weaved in the complexity of heavily institutionalized system. Without the ability to quickly adjust to influential factors such as migration waves, higher labor professional expectation, demand of multi-tasking, and social communication struggles, the high school of today is no more than “institution for the instruction of children” 1.

The process providing literacy to majority of youngsters became tradition only for the past 200-150 years, depending on the country development state. Since then the aspect of time in short and long term has not in any way affected the perception of the school model and the understanding of the school building. Currently height schools are only perceived as: a public instrument delivering the necessary academic educational levels to satisfy future labor force. In many cases the functionality of their architecture has been overestimated. Parents view the school as a helping vital asset provided by the social system we live in. High schools become the parenting institution for numerous young individuals with the misfortune of lacking care at home. Schools establishments are often assigned imaginary role of providing nourishing atmosphere allowing children to initiate social contacts, develop talents, as well as direct their personal desires and future intellectual growth. Vision as this are the core of philosophy, stamping the guiding rules for institutionalized architecture model. Static blocks with main element-“box” classroom were showed as successful high school architecture and have been a standard practice for years. The model has not changed and today the school architecture looks like it used to be 100 years ago. Aligned in a square like design many of the school classrooms resembles quite well the mediaeval church inner space settings.  On the other hand the need of the one educating and the one being educated has revolutionized. Adding the unspoken competition between countries for the best intellectual properties bring us to the question: What should the Universal High School of the feature look like? How should its architecture address the complexity of today’s physical and social barriers? And in what way can architecture and design be used as an intervention tool to support well balanced schools where active, creative, and initiated learning becomes vital?

“It is unfortunate truth that dignity and freedom of thought often depend on the proportions of a room, a delightful view out of the window, a certain mesure of light and color, so that someone who spent his whole life in a kind of obling boxes and one day enters a room with noble proportions might wonder how much he might have been missing, spiritually, just because of the character of the living quarter.”

                                                                                  Christian Morgensten

High schools are places where large amount of youngsters, teachers and administration staff, spend primarily eight to ten hours a day of their study week. Students are typically in the age of early adolescence, time of transition between childhood and adulthood. Period full of doubt this is when they can feel quite vulnerable, unsecure, distress or confused. They face various important self-developing and social choices. To adjust and improve its performance levels the Universal High Schools architectural model need to become more than just the hollow shelter allowing for base knowledge, skills and fundamental norms to be provided. Trough time social and environmental consciousness has grown resulting in a need for school design interventions that will support functions such as:

• maintain the short term of basic academics while focusing on developing life long learning abilities.

• stimulate sustainable social interactions, and support the universal, adaptive, student initiated learning.

• allow for self expression, support diversity, stimulate curiosity and experimentation, and encourage creative, alternative thinking for all

Physical environment is a key element in the students’ developmental process. Age appropriate, educational-directed setting can enhance the learning abilities, promote creativity and contribute to the over stated school goals. Youngsters differ widely in their self-expression, however what unifies them is that all they read the environment different than adults. For them the physical becomes an interactive opportunity. The interior space planned facility, the surrounding outdoors, the size and layout of rooms, light, color, texture, air quality, it all play profound role in the learning stimulation and cognitive communication for students. On the opposite, a poor executed architecture can have negative affect over its occupants resulting in physical, mental and behavioral complications. Well know example is the Berkeley Campus in California.Designed not from one but three different architects it has been critiqued numerous times addressing, the coldness, disconnection, isolation, inhumane forms, and non-proportional elements in its architecture.

Defined by the law of physics, school as a structural element can be characterized as: organized system of spaces, architecturally shaped, defined by lines, and located on selected plot.  Often it is up to the city planning commission to make decisions of proposed plot selections. This lives freedom to the architect to choose the types of shapes, the kind of lines, and the nature of connections established. The complexity of the architectural subject can be narrowed and organized in to a set of well researched, and performed building design phases.

Engaging in the pre design phase research

It will be beneficial for both the city and the architect commissioned for the job, if he/she actually gets involved as early as possible. Main things for the architect to discover in the pre design phase are the community and the surrounding nature spatial connections; to structure their importance for the future school buildings existence and vice versa. For the design to sustain itself trough years of use it will need to become an organism within the system. In nature there is no single example of disconnected element that can survive on its own. Why should school facility be one? The design process should roll around the core of those who will use it; it should be a design from the inside out. For that the architect needs to get his feet on the ground, read trough the skin of social and biological sets, collect its inspirations and find a way to bring nature and community in to the building.

Understand the essence of the learning, and build for all types of learning

Researches have proven that students diverse methods of accumulating knowledge defines them as: visual imagist, auditory oral, motor mechanical, visual verbalist, motor-kinesthetic and auditory aural. Unfortunately these are seldom accounted in the design phase. Various behavioral problems and wide spectrum of learning difficulties developed trough the school years can often be traced to certain architectural features. Reasonably well-executed architectural design should have addressed all types of learning styles. The physical designed of the school can resemble a “stage” that can unfold and change accordingly. Visual memory learning for instance can be reinforced by implementation of architectural scenes in the hallways, paths connecting different buildings or simply in the room settings. Inviting students to imaginary engage with the surroundings and recall that memo along with accompany additional details is a very effective practice of memory training. Today hallways for instance account for 40% of the build in environment in schools, and they are barely used. 30 Transforming the hallow corridor space, in to multiple functional spontaneous group gathering areas will help with social interaction. Visual Verbalist for instance can become more engaged if given the opportunity to not constantly worry in what way he/she will catch all the memo writing. Providing recording devices for the lectures, which then can be send via e-mail to each of the students, will actually improve learning by listening character in the group.

Shape, structure and their empirical connections

Air circulation, heat and water currents, as well as human body movements, mind and spirit adapt to the organically shaped shell better than to straight line one. 90 degree corners, edgy design, straight line and orthogonal model of architecture was all reflection of material consumption and industrial driven age. The postindustrial time, and innovative technology now allows us to look back in the roots of life and implement them in architecture. Except today with the changed user and revised goals of learning outcomes we do not favor the extreme heights, and embellished size of the past. The scale of the build environment needs to allow it to “listen” and “observe”, only then it will become a tool in facilitating behavior changes.

Today the authority of the schoolrooms is clearly stated by the white/black board presence and projector oriented to the front of the room. Unspoken hierarchy statement in which the teacher is in control, and the students are there to fulfill the requirements. To break the wicked circle new design should allow for teachers to shade the role of instructor, and become the mentors. Students in tern can be the workers in their own way of formulated learning. Organic flowing architectural structures can be a good solution for such a challenge. All type of energy in nature flows with, not against the dynamic forces. The motto “Form fallows function”, here translate, “form fallows flow”. Evaluating the character of organic architecture, Frank Lloyd wrote: “the natural architecture seeks spaciousness, grace and openness; lightness and strength so completely balanced and logical so it is a new integrity”

Living architecture understanding

The mental state of students and their performance is affected on a daily base by air, light, sound quality, etc. The new school standard should be buildings, which will “breathe”, “grow” and “evolve” adapting to the new global low CO2 foot print demands. Here is where the idea of organically shaped design resurfaces again.  In its nature it is living model rather than static-stiff one, and often it implements forward-thinking technology designed to “sense” the state of its occupants and adjust the conditions of the space accordingly. For example a new innovative technology allows the room to detect when students ability to concentrate has diminished, and bring fresh air to the room, or simply alarms the teacher that it is time for a short outdoor break. Other important indoor environment element is temperature. It is known that the concentration of students diminishes if temperature in the room is not suitable. The most comfortable one is between 20-21C. Unfortunately I have experienced in my learning environment here in Gothenburg, temperatures of 16C. 32 Architects should consider that temperature flows much better, and it is evenly distributed in curvilinear shapes, as the best one of them being the sphere. The same counts for the ventilation system and cooling air. Less use is associated with less energy, which reflects in the finances needed to support the facility.


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