Blog: Learning from the Learners – Karen Nugent, Page \ Park Architects

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The Education Buildings Scotland Conference seeks to bring together different sectors across the learning estate to celebrate what works in re-thinking spaces for learning. It allows them to share insights on what’s possible to support improvement. A&DS has invited a number of design professionals to share their ideas. The focus of the blogs is on the voice of young people. In this blog Karen Nugent, Head of Creative Workspace, Page \ Park Architects, writes about working with learners to explore architecture.

When you’re at primary school, your classroom is your world, the first big step away from home. A place of close confidences, giggles, struggles, concentration and daydreams. We were invited into that world for ten weeks to share Friday afternoons exploring architecture with P5 at Milngavie Primary.

Considering the impact the classroom environment has on our development, we are always looking for ways to improve it in our school designs. This project was an opportunity to spend time inhabiting the classroom with the children to see it from their perspective. From the school’s point of view, they were keen to use the architectural process as a model for collaborative working, researching topics, sharing findings, thinking creatively about problem-solving and presenting.

Encouraging Learners

Our project evolved as we went, developing exercises based on what the children had responded to in the previous weeks. They loved measuring and drawing the room, studying the small details of the building for clues about how it was built, the purpose and function of the building parts, why is it like that? Encouraging enquiry and questioning the way things are. Digging into the layers of history and understanding the school building as a local landmark for generations of people became a parallel side project for the class.

We were there to learn from the children so didn’t want to be too prescriptive about the tasks. Starting as a whole class discussing our topic, then breaking up into four big groups with smaller pairs and groupings within them, gave the children a variety of opportunities to join in. We used their classroom as the site of our enquiry and got them talking to each other about what was good and bad about it. Grouping things together then thinking about different ways to solve the problem.

Problem Solving

To help them think spatially we used resources from Architecture and Design Scotland to have a cardboard box workshop. It was a complete riot of joy in the assembly hall. Their first task to make a space to hide, then a space to listen to a story and a space to work alone. Working in groups they had to assign roles, think about the problem and analyse their proposals to explain how it met the brief. This helped them think about how different activities could be rearranged in the classroom and how to solve the problems they’d identified.

It was the children’s desire to see an impact from their explorations that drove the project on to transform the space. Parents volunteered at the weekend to redecorate and donated new bean bags and shelving for a reading corner. The project concluded with a presentation from the children to the headmaster, parents, representatives from Architecture and Design Scotland and Scottish Futures Trust. A rendition of the project in sung form at the end brought things to a joyous close.

Testing New Ways of Working

Over the last 15 years, we’ve witnessed a huge leap in expectation when it comes to designing new learning spaces. Schools are actively seeking new ideas and approaches to serve learner need and encourage change in teaching practice. In our briefing workshops it is often the pupils who are eager to push the boundaries further and test new ways of working. By giving the children the tools to become designers, to question and reshape their world, they become empowered in the process of shaping their environment and can make a more meaningful impact.


Karen Nugent, Page \ Park Architects

Image: Exploring architecture with P5 at Milngavie Primary.

Find out more about the Education Buildings Scotland Conference here.

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