What makes a great learning environment? Lucy Plumridge, HLM Architects

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As part of our focus on education and learning spaces we spoke to architects and designers about developments in learning environments. Here we hear from Lucy Plumridge – Associate Director – HLM Architects.

What makes a great environment for learning, and why?

As expected, it is vitally important that learning spaces inspire pupils and students. This can be achieved in a number of different ways, and it varies for different age groups, interests and levels. Therefore learning spaces must be flexible to enable personalised learning and ensure all students can flourish within their surroundings. At HLM we recognise that environments must also be adapted over time; the spaces we design and create are flexible and therefore can easily be changed to meet different academic needs as the space is used by various groups.

We are currently working with the University of Glasgow to inspire active learning, productivity and wellbeing in pilot rooms across the campus. For example we have utiltised innovative biophilic designs to transform existing teaching classrooms. Our approach to every room is different – for rooms with limited access to natural light we have used designs to include natural elements which research shows increases productivity.

What are the three most important aspects of school design today?

The role of technology in enhancing the student experience is increasingly important. New pedagogy methods have been explored with technology playing a significant part in the way the existing spaces have been reconfigured. The traditional classroom format can no longer be a one-size-fits-all approach.

Rich learning environments that support collaborative learning are also key in school designs. Students and pupils require spaces to reflect individually, and also to work together for well-rounded learning and sharing of ideas.

In terms of the delivery of school projects, innovative designs to ensure fast delivery and minimum impact on existing school environments is also an important consideration.

How do you think learning environments will evolve in the coming years?

For university learning environments, interdisciplinary working and collaboration between departments is becoming increasingly popular and therefore designs must reflect this.

There is more and more responsibility given to learners for both independent learning and collaborative learning with peers. Spaces must inspire teamwork, but also include quite spaces for reflection and self-development.

How do you see the role of technology in shaping the future of learning environments?

The use of virtual reality will change learning environments enabling students to take part in real world situations and visualise the world in new ways.  Students can literally step into periods of history with virtual reality, or see their ideas and innovations come to life.

To embrace the opportunities fully and integrate this into learning environments education spaces need to change and academic staff need to be trained in its potential.

Technology can also support offsite learning, allowing teaching to become truly international. As a consequence there is some suggestion that this will result in reductions in schools and university campus spaces, however this needs to be balanced with social learning that enables students to develop talent, passion, attitude, aptitude and fortitude – the core skills of a world class work force.

Have you seen any international exemplar projects/approaches to learning environments which you think we could learn from in Scotland?

The ‘Fuji Kindergraten’, a nursery school in Tokyo, Japan which uses the principles of biophilic design and forest schools. The scheme has a fantastic use of natural materials, with direct links to nature within an urban setting. It maximized outdoor space for learning purposes, and really allows children to explore and discover in their own ways.

HLM visited a world-class Learning HUB at the University of Adelaide in Australia which had a robust and industrial interior with a great student vibe. It included an exemplar student service model with forward-thinking, futuristic interior designs.

Images (from top to bottom):

University of Glasgow – Learning and Teaching Hub – (Detail) Visualisation of inside the new Learning & Teaching Hub at the University of Glasgow.

University of Glasgow – Pilot Rooms Phase 2 (©ROB MCDOUGALL 2017) The Learning Lounge at the University of Glasgow, creating inspirational alternatives to the traditional classroom.

University of Glasgow – Pilot Rooms Phase 1 (©Alexander Fraser Photography) Flexible teaching spaces within the University of Glasgow to enable active learning.


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