Nature in the classroom

How sustainable architecture can be a tool to facilitate holistic educational environments

January 12, 2024 04:50 pm | Updated 05:17 pm IST

The National Education Policy, with its last update in the post-pandemic period, lays emphasis on the importance of cognitive, emotional, social and physical development in schools and in the communities where students interact. At a curriculum level, this shift in philosophy offers freedom of choice through the diverse range of subjects beyond the conventional streams. A highly conducive learning environment that accommodates these values right from their operational levels becomes essential in the development process. Effectively, the infrastructure and spatial planning of the learning institutions become immediate environments that can help foster these reforms.

A multidisciplinary approach to education is a system that facilitates real-world learning beyond its academic roots and ensures holistic progress. An educational campus equipped with enough room for students to interact in becomes essential as the spaces we inhabit contribute greatly to moulding our behavioural tendencies. Which, in the case of younger minds, is only more impacting. Schools and places of education are one of the primary interactions of children with our society and environment due to the amount of time they spend in these spaces.

Architects and designers must be aware of the impact that the spaces they build have on their well-being and growth. The space of learning must not be an overwhelming set of vast, daunting structures. Instead, inviting spaces must be generated by scaling down the built proportions such that conducive environments that allow free thinking and self-expression can be created.

In the pandemic-recovered world, it is clear that students learn from their environment rather than merely through blackboard lessons. True learning happens beyond classrooms — in the intermediary spaces and outdoor pockets, courtyards and interactive nodes. Ideally, along with the green pockets, schools must also incorporate sustainable building techniques and micro-environments that are not dependent on mechanical air conditioning. This way, the school can become a thriving and thermally comfortable environment with abundant green spaces that surround the spaces of learning.

The finer and often overlooked factors like the lighting, shadows, colours and textures hold as much importance as the overarching design principles. For instance, studies have proven that incorporating bright colours in the kids’ immediate learning environment helps stimulate their mental development. Exposure to variations in patterns of light and shadows helps with the same. One of the learnings to come out of this is that the children are quite receptive to different textures, and designers could use this as their starting point. One of these ways could be playing around with surfaces and textures, like that of a mud floor instead of the conventional cement or tile flooring — keeping children in direct contact with nature while passively cooling the room.

Today, we are required to be more conscious of creating a strong homogeneous relationship between the school classrooms and the outdoors.

These zones also allow students to create incidental points of gathering, critical for the student experience.

Additionally, schools must incorporate sustainable building techniques and micro-environments not controlled by mechanical air conditioning. These are thriving environments with plenty of greens, which are made thermally comfortable with the incorporation of passive cooling techniques like the stack effect that ensures circulation of air and building orientation that has been optimised according to the prevalent sun and wind directions.

The entire school must be a secure environment where children are empowered with the freedom to explore, learn, and play without inhibition. Child-friendly spaces can step away from the established norms of educational infrastructure — enclosed chambers or spaces labelled as safe where the child is confined to one desk and a chair throughout the day. A robust indoor-outdoor connection with gentle level differences is essential to achieving this.

Factoring in these notions, the impact of architecture becomes crucial in the developmental stages of a child’s life, and we, as designers, are responsible for encouraging their growth and enabling them to create sustainable futures. Pedagogy alone is not the defining standard that shapes these young thinkers. Their immediate environments and nature contribute equally if not more to create safe and fruitful spaces for kids’ early developmental years. In the best of worlds, the ideal classroom is the one without walls and under a tree!

The writer is Principal Architect, Charged Voids.

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