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« Why That Remarkable Design Brochure of Ours Really Doesn’t Matter

Anyone in the ‘education’ game these days MUST confront the issue of what school’s purpose is, whether it be the last bastion of liberal arts training or socialization/citizenship practice or just the preparation for the 21st century office. No matter where you fit, it does have an impact on what our clients think…and thus how we design their learning spaces.

Whenever I catch myself drawn to a truly innovative school design, esp. the ‘learning’ space or whatever the non-classroom is called these days (I know, I know — there are lots of good semantic changes afoot), they seem to look like hip, modern offices in one manner or another. As if something good/wholesome or market-driven in us believes that if we can get kids into ‘real world’ work spaces, they will not only be productive, but they’ll also love our design savvy and instincts.

But then I think through the ‘problem’ from the other point of view and how if you were to design offices today, the last thing they’d want is something that looked like an office. This is both a good thing in a generic sense, but it does seem to pose a philosophical challenge for school designers.

I was reminded of this tonight when I read Tom Peters’ blog (yes, a must-read for those who keep an eye on the larger context of business and markets). Here’s the post and link he offered:

In the Boston Globe blog, March 13, 2006, there is an entry titled: “The Fidel Castro of office furniture” and it reads: “Reviled by workers, demonized by designers, disowned by its very creator, Robert Propst, who deemed it ‘monolithic insanity,’ the cubicle still claims the largest share of office furniture sales—$3 billion a year—and has continued to outlive every design meant to replace it. It is the Fidel Castro of office furniture. The only thing likely to slow the Borg-like cubiclization of our lives? Telecommuting.”

The Globe writer was commenting on this article from Fortune. I am glad to say I’ve escaped the cubicle—how about you?blockquote>

And back to kids and schools and our role as designers of learning environments.

I know I’m over-simplifiying and stretching the point by even making the connection, but I do wonder if the two built spaces (classrooms and office cubicles) are somehow just switching places, or if there is simply one ’sweet spot’ of a space that both groups are craving.

And I’m wondering if learning and productivity will ultimately be better served because of this.

Your thoughts?

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