Homes and gardens

Ideal spaces for learning

Educational institutions are now being built to help students experience the outdoors, connecting theoretical learning to the environment. A look by Nandhini Sundar

Step back a few hundred years and learning invariably was one that occurred in an open space, through constant interaction and personal experience, referred to commonly as the gurukula. Somewhere in between, this learning got compressed into a closed space called the classroom, the tutoring more theoretical. Cut to the present and scene is diametrically altered, borrowing a leaf out of the past, the learning inclined to be more experiential, placed in open spaces that afford active interaction with nature.

Designed to meet this altered perspective of education are new institutions, the structures offering an open expanse for learning, the classrooms pared down to two walls, the other two open to bring in a visual connect with nature. Be it science labs, libraries, art rooms or sports arena, the approach to learning and design of the spaces have witnessed a sea change.

Catering to this altered perspective is Dinesh Verma of ACE Group Architects, specialising in designing new age institutions, his differential approach and design bringing home multiple awards for his work.

Verma received the Berg Award for Innovation in Institutional Architecture 2015 Singapore for his design of the Red Bridge Academy in Bengaluru. The Candor International, which is the first school in the city to be awarded a gold rating by IGBC, is also designed by him.

Experiental

Says Verma, “Approach to learning has totally altered and so has the design of educational institutions. A subject like science is no more confined to theory but brings in experiential learning. For instance, the metamorphosis of a tadpole to a frog is no more merely theoretically taught. Instead, a pond is built where students physically see tadpoles evolving into frogs.”

Not surprisingly some of his projects include a pond as part of the design explicitly for enabling students to physically see such evolution of life.

His classrooms display an open design where young children experience the outdoors, connecting their theoretical learning to the environment. The classrooms in primary sections come in attractive colours, the walls incorporating different shapes, book shelves explicitly designed to address the young user. While each classroom connects to an open story telling area, the corridors are angled and curved to avoid injuries that are common amongst young children.

“A straight corridor with an unhindered view prompts children to run at full speed. Curves and angles cut this view, in turn cutting speed, thus avoiding collision, injuries”, avers Verma.

Safety being paramount, especially amongst children, Verma brings in specific design features to address it. “Railings in staircases are kept vertical with total absence of footholds. This prevents young children stepping on to the footholds and leaning over.” Similar safety concern prompts the placement of staircases in a vantage spot such as a massive courtyard where visibility is total, across the entire length and breadth of the staircase.

“Circular or curved staircases are avoided as it reduces functionality as well as the efficiency as only part of the staircase can be used”, says Verma. Similar safety checks are placed in design of furniture where sharp edges are avoided. “Tables and chairs follow an ergonomic design where they are most efficient and can also be combined to address group work.”

In washrooms, the height and placement of toilet fittings and the colours used are based on the age group as well as gender using the space.

Similar differential design approach surfaces in the middle and senior segment where smart classrooms prevail, offering open visual connect with the outdoors. Some classrooms are structured around a courtyard in the form of a cluster, facilitating students to use the space either for open classrooms or to take a break between tutoring hours.

“Unlike in the past, science labs are divided into theory and practical area, offering a designated space for demonstration before doing the experiments. Separate labs for language, mathematics, geography are also designed.”

Segments

As for libraries, Verma adds, “Being learning centres, they house separate spaces for teachers to offer guidance to students to do research on specified topics. Separate segments prevail for senior students as well as teachers to do individual research while a section is cordoned off to meet the needs of very young children.”

Given the productivity enhancing quality of natural light, Verma’s designs also see its copious presence in all the learning spaces while ensuring an absence of heat ingress.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 5:37:28 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/homes-and-gardens/ideal-spaces-for-learning/article19377794.ece

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