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The L-Shaped Classroom
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The L-Shaped Classroom: A Pattern for Promoting Learning
by Peter C. Lippman

peter lippmanPeter C. Lippman is currently the Chairman for the AIA Committee on Architecture for Education in New York City. In addition, he is associated with Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners in New York City and is an Instructor at the School of Architecture, Urban Design, and Landscape Architecture (SAUDLA) of the City College of the City University of New York.

Editor’s note: click on any image in this article for a full-sized version of the image.

fatL 1In November of 1994, James A. Dyck published an article, “A Case for the L-Shape Classroom: Does the shape of a classroom affect the quality of the learning that goes inside it?” in Principle Magazine. Unlike many articles and books that describe school settings, this article was grounded in research. With the understanding that schools are learning centers for development, and building on his research findings, Dyck proposed the layout of the ‘Fat L’ as a design pattern that offers teachers options in how they might organize their classrooms to facilitate the development of their students in various learning activities. Since this article was written, there has been little analysis of how the ‘L’ Shape design pattern might influence learning as well as be incorporated into the design of new school facilities. The purpose of this article will be to:

  1. Re-examine the ‘Fat L’ (Dyck, 1994) Classroom as a design pattern which supports a range of activity settings;
  2. Define activity settings;
  3. Describe the ‘Fat L’ Classroom as supporting flexible, integrated, and variable activity settings;
  4. Examine the ‘Fat L’ Shape Classroom in practice;
  5. Evaluate examples of other types of L-Shape Classrooms in the United States and the Netherlands;
  6. Consider how the L-Shape design might influence the learning activities throughout the school environment.

Fat L Shape as a Pattern for Classroom Design
For Dyck, The concept for the L-Shaped Classroom evolved from his Master’s Research Project, “A Study of Spatial Experience with Preschool-Aged Children in a Designed Environment.” This was a qualitative research study that allowed Dyck to observe that:

“the environmental qualities of classrooms—high/low, open/closed, big/little, vertical/horizontal—do indeed affect the learning process in young children” (Dyck, 1994, p. 43).

Building on the awareness of how the physical environment affects the social environment, how teachers facilitate learning activities, and how students learn, he continued to question the assembly line approach to education where school buildings were fashioned like the factory model. This model organized the school through its horizontal and vertical circulation routes. Students moved along these routes to instructional spaces to acquire knowledge. Within the assembly line approach to learning, students were likened to containers ready to be filled with new information. Furthermore, they were advanced each year according to the amount of information they had retained.

Whereas learning within the traditional industrial model of education is viewed as passive activity in which students obtain information, for Dyck learning is an activity which involves the:

“…continual negotiation of people with each other and with the resources of the environment.” (Greeno, 1998, p. 9).

This perspective recognizes that non-traditional modern learning environments encourage students to fully participate in activities with others as they acquire knowledge for themselves. With this understanding, he developed the following criteria for the modern classroom:

  • It has to accommodate the formation and functioning of small learning groups while providing a sense of separation, because groups working together will experience distractions and non-productive interaction.
  • It has to be flexible enough to allow the continual reorganization of the whole class into various sizes and number of small learning groups. This means the space must be as free as possible of permanent obstructions.
  • It has to be manageable by a single teacher who has command of the entire space. This means the space must be compact and open (Dyck, 1994, p. 44).

These criteria reflect Dyck’s understanding that learning environments must be viewed as dynamic places and complex systems where numerous activities may be occurring at any moment (Greeno, 1998). This article is grounded in research from observational studies, which uncovered the possible patterns of phenomena that may occur within the non-traditional classroom setting. From the research, criteria was developed which describes the possible phenomena that might occur within the setting, and how the concept that the classroom is flexible and integrated supports these phenomena. He proposed a design pattern that embraces the established criteria, the ‘Fat L’ Shape Classroom which takes on the form of the capital letter ‘L’, in which both legs are nearly of equal length and depth

In addition this design pattern:

“…provides a sense of separation, an easing of the perception of crowding,.. [Furthermore] As long as there are no permanent barriers, the L-shaped classroom can be reorganized to permit a wide variety of student groupings and activities”
(Dyck, 1994, p. 44).

Finally, this form can be integrated into other socio-physical environments.

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February 27th, 2006

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