School design must implement more collaborative spaces, says experts

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Industry experts share their views on the necessity to design more collaborative interiors for the generations to come.

By 2017, there will be more than 196 private educational institutions in the UAE with a capacity of 341,000 students, while the country’s goal is to provide 360,000 school places by 2020. Commercial Interior Design talks to regional experts about the newest and most interesting trends in designing learning facilities for the upcoming generation.

Ben Woods, general manager of furniture company OFIS, explains that although the UAE is a preferential educational destination, much of the market relies on traditional ROTE learning, and does not take into account the need for flexibility and creativity.

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“Most classrooms today are still arranged in the traditional style with row-by-row seating and stationary furniture developed in the 19th and 20th centuries, leaving little room for creative growth,” says Woods. “Given the huge impact the physical environment has on behaviour, reconsideration must be given to current learning environments, and the level of connectivity and tech-savviness of young students today. Lecturing styles must give way to class discussions and group learning.”

Results of a recent study conducted by Steelcase Education, one of the brands OFIS represents, showed that students reported that a change in classroom design with more flexible space enhanced their creativity and increased engagement and motivation.

Woods continues: “The research also showed 98% of students reported being more engaged in classroom activities; 88% of students said new, flexible classroom design increased their motivation to attend class; and 68% of students said the innovative classroom would increase their ability to achieve a higher grade.”

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The user behaviour of learning environments has changed rapidly in recent years due to technological advancements, expectations of the new generation of learners, need for 21st century job skills and the rise of active learning, according to Woods. The company has recently supplied Node Chair from Steelcase to the University of Dubai, Zayed University and also the American University of Sharjah as well as Interface carpet tiles to MBR University and Kent College.

“Some of the more interesting design directions we are witnessing are those which consider a more flexible environment offering the use of different zones and furniture, affording users the flexibility to shift between learning modes, save time and keep the user engaged in their own learning journey. More and more learning spaces are also becoming technologically enabled in order to appeal to the new generation of tech-savvy and connected students,” says Woods.

Andy Morris, Steelcase regional sales director for the Middle East, explains that back health, blood flow, and even neuroscience, are all taken into account when designing products for education.

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“We recently launched the Brody Lounge (Brain + Body) which is a product dedicated to users who need focus and concentration, while ensuring their posture is healthy and comfortable,” he says. “The Node chair was also created for the many modes of working. Designed to ‘Move, Fit, Store, Connect’, the Node chair promotes a highly adaptive learning environment to accommodate any teaching style. The swivel seat accommodates both left and right-handed students and gives the freedom to shift focus throughout the room.”

Searching for regional educational institutions that not only provide knowledge, but also prompt inspiration, we feature in this issue both the Swiss International School in Dubai, designed by Swiss Bureau as well as Ladybird Learning Centre designed by GAJ. Globally, we reached out to Marianne Girard, director of Montreal-based Taktik design, who was in charge of design at the recently opened Sainte-Anne Academy in Dorval, Canada, which designers refer to as “The school of tomorrow”.

“Designing an elementary school of tomorrow in an 11,150m2 heritage building built in 1896 — that’s the challenge Sainte-Anne Academy gave to us,” explains Girard. “From room layout to furniture design to communications, this innovative project was undertaken by our industrial, interior and graphic designers. After we proposed the initial solutions, we were given carte blanche to create an efficient environment that accommodates the latest teaching standards. The fun-filled environment at the academy was designed with kids in mind; the space is a blank canvas for their creativity.”

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Drawing on innovative international teaching methods, designers opened up the spaces to create relevant connections between functions while allowing more light into the heart of the school. Incorporating thematic rooms, like a greenhouse and a theatre, Girard says the design supports the teachers in their work and the educational programme overall.

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