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The Classroom x Design

Durasein & ADC Education Feature Written and Researched by: Carolyn Ames Noble, Principal, Ames Design Collective Chair of ASID, WELL Faculty Member

The design of the classroom has remained virtually unchanged since the mid-19th century when a factory model for education was designed in the heat of the industrial revolution. But we are living in an era of rapid change and innovation. New ways of learning have gained traction over the past few years and were accelerated by the COVID pandemic.

The static classroom is anything but – as educators, bravely leaning into the challenges of the pandemic, have learned.  We find new and experiential ways to learn while toggling back and forth to remote virtual learning when it is necessary. In this piece, we will explore burgeoning ways of learning, and how we, as designers, can support an enriching educational environment.

5 Key Themes

We will look at 5 key distinct themes across populations and generations of the community and provide design strategies that can be implemented into interior and exterior design. Our focus shall be on the classroom, the at-home classroom, age-inclusive spaces and accessible interiors, and biophilic design.

1. The Classroom

Building a classroom that is conducive to learning and safety became the new priority.

Test scores had a significant decline during the COVID pandemic school closures. Nearly every aspect of the schooling system was completely upended and needed to be rethought. Masking, social distancing, sanitation, and ventilation needed to be addressed. Flexible classroom layouts were essential to accommodate changing guidelines.

Three common layouts can facilitate both individual and group activities. Seating in rows can yield the most effective instruction for the teacher, as all students are able to see and hear directives clearly. Cluster seating is ideal for group work or brainstorming activities. However, in some cases, cluster seating can be distracting for some individuals when trying to focus. Creating the desks or tables in a “U” shape can be helpful for teacher and student engagement, and may be the best of both options – optimized understanding as well as group interaction.

In a way, covid brought our attention to considerations we should always have been taking. Why not challenge the norm of kids getting sick at schools, to create a safer and more sanitary environment for children, educators and the families they go home to? Food safe, non-toxic, non-porous, anti-bacterial, low VOC, and mold/mildew resistant surfacing can and should be the standard for counters and desktops in the classroom.

Color and tone is of significant importance in the classroom setting. There is an unfounded tendency to group educational colors into primary color palettes. In recent years, color theorists and psychologists have posited that color with nuance may be more supportive to learning. For example, utilizing soft greens and blues can be calming, promote clarity and creativity. Warm tones like terracotta, an orange grounded in a rooted brown tone, can stimulate and bring energy, while being more comforting than a true orange or vibrant red. All the while, neutral tones like restful gray can be soothing to the eye versus blue light utilized in computers and other tech learning devices. A singular bold accent can also be effective when coupled with softer neutral tones.

As you develop your classroom designs, utilizing a solid surface can contribute to classroom health safety measures. Durasein’s brand new Blossoming colorway would be a wonderful selection for desks or tables for its gentle movement and soft green-gray color. Cheerful Yellow can be that perfect pop of color and bring jubilation to the classroom setting.

2. Home Learning

Once a niche educational route, homeschooling went from 3% of students to 11% during the Covid Pandemic. Families might opt for this way of learning because of the increased flexibility for including adventure and travel in their childrens’ upbringing. Or they might find that a co-op learning environment based in their community, but with accessible online components, makes it possible to tailor a way of learning to their childrens’ needs.

Schools have also realized that having an ability to transition to temporary remote learning has its distinct advantages, rather than canceling or upending learning completely. For example, we now recognize that to facilitate effective in-home remote learning, technology is imperative. And perhaps this model enables more allies and empathy in the community from parents to employers to reinforce, complement, and bring to life learning experiences in and outside the classroom.

It is important for kids to have a dedicated space for at-home learning. This can be done even in a small footprint. Utilize a corner of a room, or turn a hallway nook or small closet into a fully functioning learning center with a counter and shelves. A kitchen island can also be an obvious choice for at home learning, as long as the area is free of distractions and clutter. Including natural light through a window can also help with productivity and concentration.

Homeschoolers need both technology and experiential learning experiences. We are experiencing a growth spurt in the market for industrial and interior design focused on creating enriching, at home environments for learning and focus. In our next section, we will posit how the experiential environment can be a wonderful complement to at-home learning. Solid surface is an easy choice to furnish a new at-home classroom station. It is durable, non-porous and resistant to surface scratching. Try Sunkissed for its brushed bronze waves and welcoming color with Leaden for its gentle green undertone as your foundations for learning experiences.

3. Spaces for Experiential Learning

Wherever learning is happening, the tactile physical environment is key to the quality of education. For kids who may find traditional or hybrid learning environments understimulating, using existing resources to create a range of indoor and outdoor learning environments can be a game changer. Playgrounds and outdoor educational facilities aren’t just fun– they are vital for the mental and physical health of students. For those with sensory sensitivity, spaces and products that help to diffuse stimuli are essential (Source: WGSN) – such as screens, sheltered nooks, and soothing textures. Low VOC products, gentle acoustic treatments, and intentional lighting design provide an opportunity for students like this to engage in learning at their full capacity. 

Creating public spaces like schools in response to special needs can enrich design, bringing renewed comfort and health to the full community, such as teachers, parents, and administrators, who spend time there. 

Undulating shapes are immersive for our tactile sensibility, and can transcend indoor and outdoor spaces. Try a solid surface in an organic form and stimulating visual texture such as the new Knight White or playful Sea Blue.

4. Age Inclusive Classrooms and Accessible Interiors

Inclusive spaces aim to serve the widest range of people possible by considering the diversity of human needs. (Source: WGSN). Inclusive educational environments include colleges, museums and multi-generational homes, to name a few. Consider comfort across generations so all users and ages are welcome. Support multi-generational learning through material choices like solid surface, avoiding colors like yellow or high contrasts that can be jarring to the aging eye, and building in durable, sanitary support features like ramps and railings for maximum inclusivity. Versatile, flexible solid surface solutions can make integrating accessibility possible even in restrictive extant buildings and spaces.

Driven to seek personal growth, 55% of Americans age 45 and older are actively learning new things, according to a recent AARP study on lifelong learning. 

Color, material and finish selections should include a range of hues from optimistic yellow to soothing Bliss Blue. All the while, having one unifier across the spectrum such as Durasein’s new Ever After is sure to be a selection that pleases a range of learners.

5. Biophilic Design

As we look into the future as creative problem solvers, nature is the source material for our greatest innovations within educational environments and beyond. Biophilic design supports and can even stimulate learning. Integrating natural colors, shapes, textures, and elements  can transcend all categories of learning: in the classroom, at home, for sensory stimulation and lifelong learning. 

Solid surface that evokes biophilic design through form, texture and color is a fantastic medium for these kinds of explorations. A pillar on the wall can be a branching tree, the bathroom countertop can be a streamlike ripple of translucent green, a bench can be organically formed to look like the local variety of stone. This central trend is a source of infinite inspiration. 

Durasein offers several woodgrain looks in its innovative solid surface, emulating the outdoors in a colorway such as Barnwood or Weathered Wood.

That’s a wrap

Our teachers are our champions. They face low salaries, scarce resources, exposure to sickness, safety concerns and more. And yet they are tasked with the foremost task in modern civilization- the education and support of our children and ultimately – our shared future. 

By considering the themes presented today, including the Classroom, the At-Home Classroom, Spaces for Experiential Learning, Age-Inclusive Classrooms and Biophilic Design, as designers, we can help foster and nurture places for educators and students, a positive impact for the community and beyond.

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