Part 3 - Meaning of Learning, Classroom Size, Consciousness in Learning,
Architect's Role, Educational Leadership
"Creating single purpose
spaces (math classroom, circulation corridor)
is a barrier architecture,
not an enabling architecture." Bruce Jilk
Q Lia Burgers: As the meaning of
learning is changing from passive to active, from static to dynamic,
from inside oriented to outside, to lifelong learning and to global
learning, is it still necessary to create educational systems that are
surrounded by institutional walls and barriers?
Bruce Jilk: First a slight change in the question by
asking "As the means of learning" I think this is
what was intended. To discuss the "meaning" of learning would
take us to a totally different level. Then the question asks if these
changes (or expansions) are challenging the institution of education in
regards to its perceived isolation.
One of the fundamental attributes
of a knowledge society is the significance of connections or
relationships among its elements. There is overwhelming evidence 
of the convergence between the corporate world and the education world.
The same is true for the home world. Any "walls" or
"barriers" need to be examined to assure they enable and not
inhibit these connections.
extremely challenging times for the traditional institutions of
education. We live in a culture of choice and there are many new
providers. While growth in traditional schools and colleges parallels
the population growth, growth in non-traditional providers is expanding
at about the rate of 40% per year .
In my experience the institution of education is responding to this
challenge. They are collaborating with the new providers and even
absorbing them in their world. Bottom line: no more isolation.
Charles H. Boney, Jr., AIA:
The typical classrooms we observed in Amsterdam were 20 to
50% smaller than
US classrooms. (For example, the elementary school with two stories
of apartments above it had classrooms of 600-700 square feet; in the US
we would have had 950-1100.) There were few ancillary spaces, but
they made great use of corridor space for computers and book storage.
Do you think our American bias towards single-purpose spaces (i.e.,
corridors must always be corridors, and learning only occurs in the
classroom) inhibits the educational opportunities in our buildings?
classroom is primarily a teaching environment and, as a design, has
little to do with learning. Here learning is a byproduct. Learning
environments (spaces designed with learning as the primary goal) will be
multifunctional. They need to support formal learning, informal
learning and resource learning. I call these the learning threads. The
learning environment is a fabric made up of these threads. Creating single purpose
spaces (math classroom, circulation corridor) is a barrier architecture,
not an enabling architecture.
Charles Boney: We saw many well-maintained schools on our tours. Is this typical
of The Netherlands, or did we just see the newest schools where
maintenance issues have not become apparent?
I have been in new schools (Baku) that badly needed maintenance and old
schools (Singapore) that were pristine. We can find the same variation
across the United States. So the question is primarily a cultural one
and this makes any short answer quite difficult. I will offer one
observation. Countries (or states or communities) where society sees the
"big picture" and takes a "long view" (such as The
Netherlands) will nurture their resources more carefully. Its no
accident that the most striking design at Expo 2000 was the Dutch
pavilion. They have, in effect, designed their whole country.
DeJong: I would agree with
Bruce in that space needs to be designed to support the various forms of
learning that need to occur. However, your question regarding the
size of the spaces and the use of corridors raises an interesting
question. The United States has a very unique and often inhibiting
set of building codes. Zoning
laws prohibit apartment units and a school to be in the same building
and likewise forces single purpose spaces. Storage and computers
in a corridor is a fire marshal's pet peeve (and at times correctly so).
Also, the restrictive exiting requirements have been detrimental to more
open spaces. We need a much more holistic approach.
We need to review some of these barriers; there are other ways to
address safety issues. I'm not an architect, but in
many ways codes are driving design.
If you have a classroom that is 600 to 700 square feet and are
using the corridor for storage and computers, you, in essence, are using
900 to1000 square feet of space.
Q Prakash Nair:
Do you subscribe to the traditional notion of learning as a conscious,
independent activity or do you believe that learning is really a
"byproduct" or an accidental outcome of some other primary
Bruce Jilk: First I need
to adjust the question. Learning can be
a conscious activity but not independent. Learning always has context,
even if we focus on what goes on in the mind. Also the learning that
goes on in the traditional classroom is mostly a byproduct of teaching
but not necessarily accidental. So I think the question is: Is
learning a conscious activity or experiential? I would clearly say it is
Q Prakash Nair:
latter is true, do you believe that our schools, which are set up as
primary "learning places," miss the mark altogether? In other
words, have schools and school facilities, as we know them become
anachronisms in modern society or will they remain viable in the future
with some periodic tweaking?
Bruce Jilk: As I've said
earlier, schools in modern society are teaching environments and as
places to teach they hit the mark quite well. I've framed the discussion
around the terms industrial society and knowledge society. This question
frames the discussion around the terms modern society and, by implication,
postmodern society. It will be constructive if we follow the
terminology for a moment.
The postmodern concept includes the
modern within it; it does not cast it out. It is the modern world plus
something more. And this is my point about schools. We will still have
some traditional schools (which will be forever "tweaked")
plus something more. Traditional
schools will become only one of many choices, not the only or even the
Arnie Glassberg: What role can an
architect play in helping school boards move to an understanding of the
importance of school design to learning?
Jilk: First school boards (and state governments) need to understand they are
in the learning business, not the teaching business. I know I'm
repeating myself, but this goes to the basic problem. Remember what
happened to the railroads in the US? They thought they were in the
railroad business (not the transportation business). The decisions they
made came from this perspective, were self-serving and, as a result,
they ended up mostly out of business. Likewise, school boards (and
teacher unions, textbook printers, school architects, etc.) need to stop
making self-serving actions and behave in the interest of a learning
society. Just as railroads did not go away, schools and school boards
will not go away. However, just as railroads have competitors and a
smaller market share, so will public school systems. Architects will be
of no help until they locate themselves in the learning society. I doubt
this will happen before their clients, the school systems, make this
Q Arnie Glassberg:
How can an architect, as an outside party, highlight the importance of
carefully examining instructional practices (and their lack of success
so far) before beginning design?
Bruce Jilk: We need to move very carefully here. Architects
are not skilled in pedagogy. In the 1960s and 1970s architects seemed
to be taking the lead in school design and "got ahead" of the
educators. Although many good ideas came out of this, so did many
perceived failures. Ever since, school architects are suspect. Many of
the '60s and '70s architects are retired or dead, and because there was
more than a decade when very few schools were built in the U.S., we now
have a "service corps" that lacks this experience and is therefore
ready to repeat it.
On the other hand, as we move into the knowledge era,
society is shifting its values. One of these shifts is from valuing
products not only for their intrinsic qualities, but also for their
symbolic qualities ( Nike shoes). Creativity is basic to nurturing
symbolic quality and creativity is inherent in architectural education.
Architects can contribute to the discussion on instructional practice
from this perspective. Until schools of education develop a strong
component of creativity in their curriculum, architects may be the best
Architects can be very constructive in helping school boards move to an
understanding of the importance of school design to learning. But
we need to be very careful here. Is the architect telling the
client what learning should take place or how students should learn?
That should be the client's job. The architect should be providing
design solutions to meet the objectives established by the client.
In the later context it would be very appropriate for the architect to
assume the role of providing information to the client on how this might
be accomplished from a design perspective.
times the school board has not built a building in many years and may
not be knowledgeable about all of the new design ideas and how they
might impact learning. But I would suggest the architect be very
careful not to assume the client's role and responsibility.
collaborative planning and design approach usually provides the school
board and the architect with the best of both worlds.
would agree with Bruce's caution. Even when the architect has more
knowledge than the client, the educator is still the client. You
should find ways to enlighten the client but in the final analysis it is
Q Andy Simpson: Knowing that new models are
difficult at best to implement given constraints of facilities
management, staff reluctance, local politics and others, what is your
best advice to educational leadership (superintendents, board members
and instructors) for navigating the current watershed?
Bruce Jilk: First I would advise people
buy into and follow a comprehensive process. I typically use the
"Design Down" process,
but there are others. In addition: 1) be clear about the true purpose of
the endeavor; 2) involve representatives of all stakeholders; 3) begin
with the needs and expectations of the larger community; 4) agree on
what is special about the project; and 5) be honest about the learner
expectations. Everyone has ownership (not just the superintendent or
architect) and you can never communicate enough. Learn about other
programs by visiting them. Although it is a poor substitute, if you
cannot make the visits, have representatives from those programs come
and visit the design/planning team. Next, this effort needs leadership
(which can come from anywhere but is best if it comes from the school
system) and skilled facilitation (which can also come from anywhere but
is best if it comes from outside the school system). Finally, it is
essential that everyone make decisions around what is best for the
out for statements such as: “The school board won't approve,” “The
superintendent's job is at stake,” or “This is outside the union
agreement.” None of these are in the primary interest of the child.
William DeJong: I
couldn't agree with Bruce more. A participatory process is
essential. There are a number of good techniques to accomplish
this. We use what we call a "planning lab"
approach. It is a multiday, interdisciplinary approach and
involves a broad based group of stakeholders. Too often I have
seen projects become the sum of the parts. I believe projects need
to be developed from the whole to the parts and back to the whole.
It also needs to focus on the future and not planning in the rearview
mirror. This doesn't mean that we can't learn things from the past
but it needs to be focused on learning, students and the future. I
believe with the right process it doesn't take long to break the mold,
but it can't be done by just having meetings with teachers once a week
for an hour after school.