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Education | Infrastructure

How to balance spatial efficiency and learning outcomes when upgrading schools

31 Oct 2022, by Amy Sarcevic

As NSW gears up for an annual population increase of 85,000 over the next twenty years, a trend towards more densely populated schools is emerging – and presenting a major challenge to smaller campuses across the state.

Despite already dealing with spatial and budgetary constraints, NSW public schools will need to accommodate an additional 180,000 enrolments by 2039. Around 34,000 teaching spaces will require upgrades as a result.

School architect Natalia Krysiak of Hayball, says while spatial efficiency will be an important focus in school upgrades, it must never be at the expense of learning outcomes.

“It is easy to place another building on a school site without considering the learning context. But to carefully add physical space while enhancing learning outcomes is a whole different plane of thinking,” she said ahead of the NSW School Planning Conference, hosted by Informa Connect.

To strike this balance, Natalia has explored three key learning themes in her design work.

Interdisciplinary learning

Multi-functionality is one of the most effective ways to achieve spatial efficiency in a space-constrained site – and, if done right, has the added benefit of fostering interdisciplinary education, Natalia argued.

“When different disciplines have a close relationship because of their physical proximity, it triggers opportunities for teachers and students to collaborate,” she said.

However, Natalia warns that careful thought will need to go into the layout of multi-purpose spaces.

“Schools will need to think about which functions they want to integrate, how this integration might look in practice, and what specific outcomes they are trying to achieve.

“For example, one school might wish to co-locate science and sport, with a view to promoting learning outcomes in sport science.

“This might mean locating an exercise space alongside a science room, where students can track the effects of movement on the human body. Or, locating a makerspace nearby might trigger possibilities for new exercise technology to be created by the students.

“In these spaces, collaboration is critical, but each discipline must also be allowed to have their own identity and bespoke functionality.”

Intergenerational learning

In a similar vein, a growing trend towards shared school and public spaces is a great way to promote intergenerational learning.

Natalia says lots of facilities lend themselves to community integration and recommends schools get creative about which spaces they could share with the public.

“There are lots of spaces which schools could theoretically share with the community – for example, libraries, dance studios and other sports facilities. In these areas, students could form a larger community learning network, be exposed to role models, and cement the idea of lifelong learning.

“This is of huge social benefit to the children and wider community, including older adults. Research tells us these social connections can improve physical health and cognition, and reduce loneliness.

“Shared facilities are also great for schools with limited budgets, as they maximise spatial use and resource efficiencies.”

Uninterrupted learning

In a recent project, Natalia and team built and dropped a prefabricated space into an existing campus, avoiding months of noise disruption that would typically be involved when constructing a new facility.

“The prefabricated elements were built offsite, wheeled into the campus, and dropped in within a day,” she said.

“It meant the school could quickly and easily move into a new learning space, without disruptions to their education.”

In a separate project, Natalia and team built a new sports facility partially underground, enabling the continued use of green natural space.

Natalia will give in-depth coverage on these case studies and further tips on creating spatial efficiency in schools at the NSW School Planning Conference. This year’s event will be held November 8th at the Radisson Blu Plaza Sydney.

Learn more and register your place here.


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