In early summer 2014, third year students from the Interior and Spatial Design course at Napier University delivered an action research project around re-imagining existing spaces for learning using the meeting room at the offices of Architecture + Design Scotland in Bakehouse Close, Edinburgh. The purpose of the project was to:
- Test some of the principles established in the A+DS Re:Design Option exhibition in a new context, [i.e. in a different space to the ones highlighted in the exhibition itself] to understand how transferrable the principles are and how effective the outcomes are for learning.
- Explore how the existing spaces and relationships of a neighbourhood can be leveraged for learning and in so doing; understand the challenges and opportunities of ‘learning beyond the school wall.’
- Understand the governance and management issues associated with engaging learners in spaces out with the school.
The background to the project was a conversation about the potential to make more of assets we already have as part of the Cumulus International Design conference in Dublin. The focus of the conference was ‘more for less-design in an age of austerity’. The focus of the conversation was about how public spaces that already exist in places could be used to support active learning through project working, or prototyping different forms of learning space.
Napier University followed up the conversation with a project proposal to re-imagine the potential of the A+DS spaces at Bakehouse Close. The proposal had four stages:
- Learning from experience elsewhere
- Designing the user invitation to participate
- Prototyping alternative settings for learning
- Live testing
In the first stage, the students travelled to London to experience The Impact Hub, which is a co-working and learning space.
Impact Hubs are where change goes to work. Part innovation lab, part business incubator and part community centre, we offer our members a unique ecosystem of resources, inspiration and collaboration opportunities to grow impact.
The impact culture fostered by the culture and spatial organisation of the Impact Hub lends itself to intense collaborative working, but also constant re-imagining the space the community of collaborators work in and the settings for the activities they want to make an impact on. Indy Johar, Co-Founder of the Hub explained the principles of the Impact Hub to the students and supported their idea development for this project.
In the second stage, the students focused on the problem of how to invite potential learners into the space at Bakehouse Close for them to use this space as a practical part of their learning day. This involved consideration of the learning needs, safety and suitability as well as trust building between the organisers of the project and the teachers and community of the school. The students decided to invite nursery and P1/P2 students from Royal Mile Primary school to use Bakehouse Close as a learning space. The invitation involved meeting the teacher, and designing personalised invitations to the children. Part of the reason the Head teacher agreed was the learning opportunity of learning outside the school and the opportunity to connect the learners with their neighbourhood.
In the third stage, the students created a ‘learning forest’ based on the principles of the Realm:ISD proposal in the Re:Design Option exhibition. In essence, this is a kit of parts which can be easily created and combined to create different interior settings for learning, based on a learning brief specific to that learning community. Working with the Scottish Storytelling Centre, located just a few yards up the Royal Mile from Bakehouse Close, a storyteller was chosen for the event. Daniel Allison worked with the Napier University students to shape settings for stories and interactive learning. Using paper, plastic sheeting and plumbing materials, the students created four settings for learning which invited different learning activities:
[i] A jungle wall, where the pupils from the school could insert their personalised invitation.
[ii] A swamp which became a setting for informal seating and groupings.
[iii] A river which supported observational learning.
[iv] A learning tree which became the focus of the event, around which the pupils sat and listened to a story.
In the final stage, the temporary, or ‘pop up’ learning space was tested for use with the pupils and teachers. The learning settings were built. On the day of the event, the students and teachers guided the children up the Royal Mile, following monster paw prints on the footpath which had been marked out in chalk. They entered the space, and working with Daniel, the children moved through a sequence of activities in the different learning settings. Two sessions of the pop up classroom were hosted: one in the morning with the P1/P2 pupils, and one in the afternoon with the nursery children. Following each session, there was a debriefing session with invited guests from the neighbourhood, which included the European Parliament, the Re:Design Option designers and the City of Edinburgh Council.
The project was a great success. From the learner and teacher perspective, it was an opportunity to use the neighbourhood as an opportunity for learning and as an experience with the communities of the neighbourhood. From an A+DS perspective, it was an opportunity to host learners from the neighbourhood within the setting of the workplace. From a Napier University perspective, it was an opportunity to develop a real project, organised around real and practical outcomes for people, which will inform the process of design by these future professionals.
The students have created a small graphic summary report setting out the brief and visual outcomes of the project, which is available as an attahced resource.
The students and tutors of Napier University and the staff of A+DS are very grateful to all the collaborators who made this project happen, particularly, the pupils and teachers of Royal Mile Primary School, who with their ambition and enthusiasm gave us the greatest learning.