Wellbeing as a foundation for learning – Education Buildings Scotland Conference 2018

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2018 is Scotland’s Year of Young People. Young People, wellbeing and creating better learning outcomes will be part of this year’s Education Buildings Scotland Conference in 2018. In the months leading up to the conference we will post a series of blogs and articles around the issue of wellbeing, design and young people at the heart of designing our learning spaces. In this blog Architecture and Design Scotland’s Director of Place, Diarmaid Lawlor, writes about the importance of designing for wellbeing.

Wellbeing is the foundation of learning. ‘Learner participation in Educational Settings from age 3-18’, published by Education Scotland, highlights the shaping of the learning estate as a wellbeing opportunity for learners. So, what does this look like, and why does it matter?

The cost of not achieving wellbeing

Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. About 16% of young people in Scotland self-harm at some stage.  Clever design shapes places for wellbeing.

Voice and value

As part of Happenstance, Scotland’s contribution to the international architecture exhibition at La Biennale di Venezia, A&DS hosted a colloquium on wellbeing in the learning estate. This international event brought together insights from education psychologists, teachers, learners and designers.

A key theme was around the purpose of learning to shape the conditions for young people to build a sense of agency; and the ability to manage transitions. Transitions can happen at all stages of life, through family changes, across learning stages. The focus is building the skills to manage the change.

A very clear message from the participants was around the role of design, and the shaping of spaces to facilitate these skills across learning stages. These kind of spaces support relationships, enable a sense of attachment, provide the confidence for people to engage with problems and opportunities.

The foundation for creating these spaces is to communicate to young people – throughout the whole process – that they are valued. The best way to do this is to include their voice in conversations about what’s possible at the briefing and design stages.

Spaces for wellbeing

At the Venice colloquium, the discussion focused less on the component parts of the design of wellbeing, and more on the type of wellbeing experiences afforded by different types of space. Four spaces for wellbeing were suggested:

  • From ‘nurture spaces’ to ‘nurturing cities’. The emphasis here was about embedding nurture and wellbeing across all environments. The aim was equity of experience for all;
  • ‘Habitats within and beyond school’. The emphasis here was about creating safe bases that people felt welcome in, on their own terms;
  • ‘Design as dialogue’. The emphasis here to use making things and making spaces as a way to tap into the insights and potential of all young people; and,
  • ‘Ritual and control’. The emphasis here was on the learner to co-designing the rules and rituals of spaces. The focus was on a “loose parts approach to kit” which enables the learners to personalise their space.

Co-designing the future

Learner participation and wellbeing by design will form two key themes at the Education Buildings Scotland conference, November 21-22 at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. The focus is on highlighting design as a tool to help prevent stress and a tool to empower learner’s wellbeing. Let’s share what’s possible, co-designing better wellbeing futures for all.


Join our discussion about these themes and learn about the Education Buildings Scotland Conference by signing up to our newsletter here.
Find out more about our work with schools and developing learning spaces here.

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