Facility Planning: Trait-Based Design

Today: personalized learning environments. Tomorrow: learning environments adaptable to future generational traits?

Shopping centers receive facelifts periodically to address the changing habits of buyers. Perhaps the design of learning environments should be reconfigured to respond to the changing personality traits of each new generation of students.

Classroom design remained virtually unchanged until the 1960s. Then, new attitudes, philosophies and curriculum enhancements started to surface, and from that followed new space designs, delivery methodologies, technology, furniture, fixtures and equipment. Has today's learning environment kept pace with generational traits of students?

Children are extremely techno-savvy. Some experts worry that teens may not develop the social and communicative skills to interact with others. These Internet-generation children reveal a paradigm shift that has changed how people relate to one another, and how virtual and real communities are created.

The “New Silent Generation” is a proposed name used by Howe and Strauss in Generations to describe people born in the late 1990s, or in the early 2000s. Their traits include:

  • Growing up using computers, the Internet and cell phones.

  • Wanting all senses to be stimulated with colors, movement and music.

  • Multi-tasking as they chat with friends via the Internet while doing homework and watching TV.

  • Being impatient — they want immediate results and action.

  • Willing to be team players.

  • Trusting authority figures at school to monitor their comings and goings as a means of protection.

  • Possessing confidence and expecting challenges and opportunities.

  • Growing up with instant feedback and praise from parents, teachers and interactive games.

To respond to students with these traits, a learning space needs to be more responsive and reconfigurable. Schools should create adaptable learning space options with:

  • Expansible space. Use a structural steel frame with long-span steel joists, non-load-bearing exterior and interior walls. Structural walls carrying floor or roof loads create limitations.

  • Convertible space using demountable partition systems. They can be relocated to provide open, semi-open or traditional closed classroom configurations.

  • Versatile space accommodating multiple functions.

  • Malleable space changing “at once and at will” as found in large open classroom learning environments.

As learning environments evolve, consider creating spaces where kids want to be and want to learn. A friendly, fun and safe atmosphere is essential. Teachers need to use technology and use a variety of instructional methods that may require flexible spaces.

Creative architects, planners and educators need to collaborate on cutting-edge designs that stimulate all of the senses and other traits of the current generation of kids — and design learning environments adaptable to the needs of future generations.

Rydeen, FAIA, is an architect/facility planning specialist and former president of Armstrong, Torseth, Skold & Rydeen, Inc. (ATS&R), Minneapolis.

He can be reached at [email protected].

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