Architectural design has a profound impact on human behaviour and development, including the process of learning. In the evolving world of education, learning environments are transcending traditional boundaries to adopt design strategies that foster both cognitive and emotional development in students. These innovations, ranging from flexible seating to biophilic design, are all aimed at enhancing the learning experience.
Colour psychology is one such tool used in recent educational buildings to stimulate different types of learning. Research by the University of British Columbia has shown that colours can have a remarkable impact on cognitive functioning. Following these findings, educational institutions such as the University of Applied Sciences in Utrecht and the University of Technology Sydney have strategically incorporated colour into their designs, thereby modulating student mood and concentration levels.
Moreover, blue is often associated with calmness, tranquility, and concentration, and has been found to promote a sense of relaxation, improve focus, and enhance productivity. This makes it suitable for spaces where deep thinking and concentration are required, such as study areas or exam rooms. On the other hand, red is commonly linked to energy, excitement, and stimulation. It can increase heart rate and adrenaline levels, evoking a sense of urgency and passion. Red is often used in spaces where physical activity or high levels of energy are desired, like gymnasiums or sports facilities.
Yellow is associated with positivity, happiness, and optimism, and is considered to be an attention-grabbing colour that can stimulate mental activity and creativity. Yellow can be used to create an uplifting and vibrant atmosphere in learning environments, encouraging active engagement and enthusiasm. Green is frequently linked to nature, growth, and balance. It has a calming and soothing effect, promoting relaxation and reducing stress, and is commonly used in educational settings as it is believed to enhance concentration, improve reading comprehension, and create a sense of harmony. However, while these associations exist, it’s important to note that individual perceptions and cultural backgrounds can influence the interpretation of colours.
The layout of learning spaces is also being transformed. Institutions are moving away from conventional rows of desks to more unconventional and flexible seating arrangements. For example, the Ørestad Gymnasium in Denmark boasts a ‘learning landscape’ with open spaces and varied seating, encouraging active learning and collaboration.
Natural light plays a pivotal role in these innovative learning environments. Studies have shown that natural light can boost mood, reduce fatigue, and enhance learning capacity. A prime example is the Liyuan Library in Beijing, where light enters the building through a complex lattice structure, creating a calm and serene environment that encourages focussed learning.
Biophilic design, which integrates nature into the built environment, has gained significant traction in educational buildings. Studies show that contact with nature reduces stress, enhances creativity, and improves attention span. But the incorporation of nature goes beyond just live plants. It also includes natural light, views of nature, and the use of natural materials and textures.
Learning spaces become nurturing and engaging environments when they support the holistic needs of the student. By utilising colour in a balanced, purposeful way, rethinking traditional seating options, including lots of natural light, and incorporating nature in its many forms, educational architecture transcends its function as ‘shelter’ and becomes so much more. Buildings and spaces turn into tools that improve mood, promote inclusivity, enhance focus, and reduce stress. As we navigate the future of education, our growing understanding and implementation of these inventive design principles will be crucial in cultivating learning environments that enrich student development in all its aspects.