Design Features for Project-Based Learning
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One participant chose to present a third design using a different view for the 
design concept and process. Design #3 was presented as a story through words and a series of illustrations and diagrams with the story focused more on general design principles that could be applied to physical environments that support and enhance 
collaborative, project-based learning. The presentation provided a historical look at how 
architects, educators, and communities have been designing educational facilities based 
on societal history rather than being based on present or future societal needs. 
The story, as presented by the participant began with a diagram (see Figure 5) 
providing guidelines to four layers of what needs to be designed and not be designed for 
the physical learning environment. One point made was that the layers illustrated the 
need "to think in terms of the design being done incrementally, and the layers being 
integral to one another and providing a sense of coherency to the learning." The 
participant's concept was in part based on the thinking of Leon Battista Alberti (Chaoy, 
1997). "For Alberti, more than any other activity, building evinces the creative powers of 
men [sic] because it is superior to other activities in satisfying demands on the three 
levels on which human activity functions, those of necessity, commodity, and aesthetic 
pleasure…a building consists of form determined by the mind and matter determined by 
nature" (Choay, 1997, pp. 67-69). The following was the participant's explanation of 
Figure 5.

I started with colors representing the different points of view. One area [of 
the design] was the red box that illustrates agreement and enough money 
to build the bricks and mortar that supports a learning process. Another 
area that is needed, but didn't want to build, but did want to at least 
provide for, was illustrated by the green box. The brown area indicated the 
area that there was not enough money for but it is important that 
connections were [made] so that the learners could get to it. And finally, 
the rest of this, [Figure 5.] the cross-hatched areas, is thought of in terms 
of creating a learning environment that is to be done [designed] by the 
learners themselves. 

Figure 5. Design #3.

        My interpretation of this quote was that when designing a physical
learning environment, it is not always necessary to include spaces or features in the 
school or college that can be accessed through other means such as community partners, 
as was illustrated in Phase I with the School of Environmental Studies and the 
Interdistrict Downtown School. The participant also emphasized, throughout the Studio, 
that learners need to be given more responsibility in designing their own learning and to 
determine what is needed in terms of features of the physical learning environment that 
support and enhance that learning. The significance of that responsibility was shown in 
the layers to illustrate the desire to design what the participant termed as the armature or 
basic framework of the physical environment. The participant described the armature 
with these words: 
        The armature creates a richness or soul of the building and a 
creative transformation of the building. The richness comes from 
what the learner does with the environment.
We should allow them 
to do that more by collecting the insights, desires, and intents [of 
the learners]. 
       From my perspective, the participant was suggesting that by designing only the
basic framework and infrastructure of the building and leaving the rest undone allows for 
different learners to more easily transform the use the space in a manner that is conducive 
to their learning.
       To create a context for the purpose of Figure 5, the participant displayed several 
other illustrations he/she created to describe a fictional city. In this city, the public 
[educators, city, architects, and funding agencies] designed and built a large school away 
from residential neighborhoods because the only property that was affordable was in the 
industrial part of the city. In contrast to the just mentioned scenario, the participant 
explained that at the same time a private developer hired an architect to design several 
other public buildings in the city including a bank, a library, a hotel, and a church, which 
were all located within the neighborhoods. The story began in the year 2000 and ended 
with the year 2020. 

       The year was 2000.

The next picture is to take a very real, virtual city and tell a story. The city was built about 150 years ago along two rivers. Freeways were added to give more structure. Community icons were built in 2000. Those icons were a library, hotel, bank, and church built in the residential neighborhoods by a private developer and a school built by the city 
[dollars]. The school was built in the industrial area next to the river because it was the only area that the city could afford. 

       In my view, the first part of the story illustrated the development of the 
infrastructure of a city and contrasted two views of how to plan for and where to locate 
public facilities.

       It was now the year 2010.

There were changes. The people realized they didn't need as much 
industrial land [and] they took out some of the freeways because 
people couldn't afford cars anymore because of the high fuel costs, 
so some of the freeway space was turned into green space. The 
hotel went out of business because people were not traveling as 
much. The bank went out of business because everything was done 
electronically, so they didn't need a building anymore. 

       From my opinion, the above, second part of the story from the year 2010, 
portrayed how cities and their infrastructure transform as societal and economic changes 

       It was now the year 2020.

The trend had continued. The library had been replaced with 
everything being available electronically and the church has gone 
out of business because…I won't talk about that for many reasons. 
The school building also went out of business and was taken over 
by industry because it was the best building for them to use. It 
made more sense to use the school [because of its original design] 
than some of the other [available] infrastructure. At this time, 
smaller sites of learning were beginning to appear throughout the 
community. The former library, bank, hotel, and church became 
school sites [dispersed throughout the city]. 

The design of the original school built in the year 2000 had an area 
that I call the "jaws" where the administrative offices were—with a 
nice view of the river. The next part was the classrooms or the 
"cells." The back of the animal…"I'm trying to use soft language 
here" was for the leftover programs such as vocational education. 
Our built environment gives messages to people. We call this a 
citadel. The signature for the building is the school bell, which is 
how they orchestrated all activities.

       Again, from my perspective, in the two paragraphs of the story from 2020 the 
participant explained that the changing societal and economic trends continued affecting 
the use of the remaining public buildings or icons that had been built in the year 2000. 
The school building, being located away from the residential neighborhoods and with its 
design being modeled from an industrial-era point of view, easily became an industry 
facility. The participant's further description of the school presented a facility that 
supported learning that was highly structured around static time frames and where the 
learning activities were segregated from one another and from the other personnel and 
activities in the building.
      The other part of the story from the year 2020 is that the other public icons 
[buildings] built by the private developer had now become neighborhood schools. The 
architect and developer had designed the armature or basic framework of these buildings 
to be easily transformed for other uses. Each of the buildings had entrance areas to greet 
the user, activity spaces, service areas, and spaces that supported the activities of the 
other areas.
       The purpose of the story was to illustrate two different design processes used for 
the built [physical] environment and the resulting messages that the built environment 
gives its users. In an effort to explain the two different processes, the participant 
explained that the process used to design the school was based on using a model. In this 
case, the model was based on late 19th and early 20th centuries learning theories that 
prepared learners to work in a factory or industrial setting where uniformity was desired. 
The design process used for the built environment of the other public buildings was based 
on rules that integrate site conditions and location, user needs, and aesthetics. 
      In explaining the differences of the two design processes, the participant again 
referred to Choay's (1997) work, explaining models and rules. Choay compared the 
ideologies of architecture and design from the juxtaposition of Thomas More's Utopian 
thinking using models and Leon Battista Alberti treatise of the set of rules and principles 
of the built domain. "Raphael Hythloday [another Utopian thinker] began by pointing to 
the standardization [model] of the built environment, urban and rural…fifty-four cities 
built according to the same plan, identical in appearance" (p. 140), and "Alberti specified 
that to provide aesthetic pleasure, the built environment must obey a set of fixed rules 
relating to the actual condition of the site, the demands of the users, and their aesthetic 
sensibility" (p. 279).
      My understanding of how the participant used Chaoy's work is that built 
environments designed from models tend to be identically replicated at different sites and 
based on assumptions of use that have been perpetuated throughout time rather than from 
current or future context. The school in the above story illustrated this interpretation. To 
contrast how design, based on rules, allows for a built environment that can be used for 
multiple uses and dependent upon the needs of users, the participant described the rest of 
the illustrations of how the private developer designed the bank, church, hotel, and 

The enlightened, private developer designed [built environments 
using rules rather than models] because he knew what was coming 
[societal and economic change]. The bank had a common space in 
which to access the services. The church had the spaces of the 
narthex [public entry and gathering place] and the nave [central 
activity area] with side spaces. The hotel had a common shared 
space, dining space, gift shop, bar, lobby, and guest rooms, 
bathrooms, and storage on the upper floors. The library had a 
reception area, a place for periodicals, magazines, stacks, offices, 
toilets, conference rooms, seminar rooms, and a space for special 

      It was my interpretation that by creating the armature for the design based on 
human need or following the rules rather than a model, that the bank, church, hotel, and 
library all supported the user in whatever activity was chosen at the time. The citadel 
school was based on the factory model of earlier schools (illustrated by Tapaninen's 
remarks in Case Study 1) designed to support the functions of the industrial era, rather 
than support human need. A current example of a learning institution built from rules 
rather than a model and one that supports and enhances collaborative, project-based 
learning, the participant described the physical learning environment of the Heinavaara 
Elementary School in Finland. 

Schools [using collaborative, project-based learning processes] 
need the following types of spaces: shared resource areas, 
socialization areas, large group spaces, small group spaces, 
seminar spaces, and individual workspaces.

The curriculum [in Finland] had shifted from the national, textbook 
approach to project-based learning. The components [of the space] 
are a home base, which is part of the central resource space. You 
have overlapping spaces. The central resource area, the 
furnishings, and artifacts provide the technology, the access, the 
resources, the books, paper, and pencils. There was space on the 
floor. Kids like to work the most on the floor. There was group 
directed and individual work.

      The learning expectations, processes, and physical learning environment 
described above are at the K-12 level; however as was stated in earlier chapters, many of 
the current learning facilities that are designed in ways to support active learning 
processes, such as collaborative, project-based learning are K-12 facilities. A community 
college vice president stated in a presentation that for community colleges to remain as 
leaders in preparing adults for the changing roles and responsibilities for work, family, 
and community life, the colleges must now reinvent themselves and look to future need 
rather than past practices. K-12 learning practices and facilities can be viewed as 
precursors to what community colleges need to be paying attention. A larger percentage 
of high school graduates are now first attending community colleges before continuing 
postsecondary education and come with anticipation for different learning expectations, 
processes, and environment based on their K-12 experiences.
      Expanding on the premise of designing the armature or basic framework of the 
built environment, and of using rules rather than models to design physical learning 
environments for collaborative, project-based learning, the participant next presented 
what he/she termed as injunctions [rules] for designing the physical environment. The 
injunctions [using her/his labels] are: (a) support vision, (b) support communities, (c) 
support sapientential [wisdom], (d) [support] fine grain, (e) support built technology, (f) 
support nested spaces, and (g) support physical [or built environment]. The following 
descriptions of these injunctions, in the participant's own words, are followed by my 
interpretation [in brackets]. 

1. Support Vision

Move from a vision of seeing the earth flat [or only seeing our own 
"piece of the world"] to a vision place where we can see the big 
picture, [where] we can comprehend it as a whole. We need to 
have the long view. So often our decisions are based on the short 
view. [Decisions regarding curriculum, how best to serve learners, 
and the design of the facilities to support learning should be based 
on future vision, not current or past practice].

2. Support Communities of the Mind

Science tells us that we started out as rocks, then cells…small 
creatures, then animals, then men and women, to global minds 
working together through technology. [Humans have evolved from 
one-celled creatures to an organism with a well-developed mind 
that for the majority of people is not used to its fullest potential. 
Technology assists our mental processes. An example is how 
technology has brought a global perspective to all aspects of life 
and provides the opportunity to create vision and solutions using 
the richness of diversity].

3. Support Sapientential

The mind and body are all together, not separate. The mind is the 
body, the mind and the brain stem together. We need scaffolding to 
learn with all our cells not just our brains. We need to recognize 
that as people develop we [they] need scaffolding to deal and 
interact with our world. Without the scaffolding, we would be 
mindless. To complete the framework [scaffolding], we need to 
learn and we need angels to help us out [and] to make us viable 
individuals. [Wisdom or discernment comes from learning 
through experience and application as well as through cognitive 
learning processes. Collaborative, project-based learning uses a 
whole body approach to learning by incorporating relevancy, 
experience, and application to cognitive learning. Learning and 
living experiences are enhanced when others, our Angels, guide 
and support us. Angels may be in the form of human beings or 
other living creatures].

4. Support Fine Grain

In the coarse grain world, we learn, live, and work in separate 
areas. Europe is more medium grain where learning, living, 
playing, and working are more integrated. We need to move to a 
fine grain community where we learn, live, work, and play within 
close proximity to one another so they are sustainable. This is a 
real doable community. When I speak of communities in the U.S., 
I use the term lightly and that is one hell of a stretch of the word. 

A good example of the physical support, in a fine grain way, are 
the canal houses in Amsterdam, built in the 17th century. What is 
behind the façade? Take six of those houses and you have a hotel, 
two you have a shop, and three you have a school. It is the 
rhythmic, organized structure that serves the community behind 
the facades. They are variable as the needs change. They are based 
on the human scale and we as humans haven't changed much over 
the 100,000 of years we have existed. [Learning occurs in all 
aspects of life, not just in formal learning settings. Integrating 
learning with life and having learning take place in community 
settings increases sense of community and brings relevancy to 
learning. The built environment should be designed to adapt to 
new uses].

5. Support Built Technology

Engagement in learning is higher when we increase coherency and 
access. I call this built technology because the building and 
technology are working together. The role of the built environment 
is to increase coherency. [Design the learning so it becomes a 
coherent whole rather than separate subjects and design the built 
environment to support that coherency and integration of learning 
expectations and processes. Incorporate and increase access to 
technology and other resources to enhance the learning].

6. Support Nested Spaces

We need to support nested spaces of learning. It is the relationship 
of spaces, spaces that overlap that creates the pulsating 
juxtaposition. It has nothing to do with corridors or other 
disconnected elements. We need the coherence and the 
connections with access to the various spaces. As Alexander 
(1979) talks about in his book, design is all about relationships. It 
is the relationship of the street to the front door, to the building. 
Our communities are more sustainable if we build at the 
relationship level. [Adjacent learning spaces that invite and 
encourage others to enter and participate encourage the building of 
relationships that sustain learning and living].

7. Support Physical [Built Environment]

We create very few basic frames or elements. The rest is filled in 
by the user. That approach works for schools, hotels, churches, and 
banks. Build the infrastructure and let those who learn, live, work, 
and play there fill in the rest. Project-based, collaborative learning 
needs micro spaces. [The participant advocated for the basic 
framework and infrastructures being designed and having the user 
of the built environment decide what design features are needed to 
support the activities occurring in the space. In the case of 
designing the built environment for learning, the staff and the 
learners should be involved in the design process].

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