In fall 2013, the ergonomic furniture manufacturer VS America published a case study featuring the interior learning environment of the Buckingham project.
You can read the full publication online here. Below are excerpts from the publication featuring Dina Sorensen, Project Designer, VMDO Architects.
“The learning environment is enriched by the atmospheric use of color as it reacts to abundant natural daylight, a variety of materials and textures to emphasize the tactile and sensory nature of learning, and the furniture, which brings a completeness to the strategic desire to provide resilient settings that afford educators and students with options to interact with their learning environments,” explains Dina Sorensen, Project Designer, VMDO Architects. “In other words, every design decision was made meaningful and rich with pedagogical opportunity.”
The centerpiece of the campus is the Dining Commons, a multifaceted learning environment that serves as a shared, connecting space between the primary and elementary schools, and with the community as a whole.
The Dining Commons include a teaching kitchen, food and nutritional displays, open serveries for cooking demonstrations, a food lab and small group learning lounge, a scratch bakery, a dehydrating food composter, lots of natural daylight, an outdoor dining terrace, and edible and academic gardens.
“One of the key aspects of the design is the subtle combination of design features that signal and reinforce that ‘all things are possible’ in community. Learning is made visible and diversity celebrated,” says Ms. Sorensen.
She went on to explain that educators can exercise programmatic discretion for individual and small group learning activities in a variety of layered spaces. In turn, the whole community can come together to transform the use of shared gathering spaces to perform and generate narratives and traditions.
“The amazing observation I have had,” she says, “is that because the high degree of open space is balanced by smaller zones for small- and medium-sized groups, as well as a layering of inside and outside connections, the social interactions and peer-to-peer exchange is a positive, inspirational and joyful unfolding of daily events. And because the students are surrounded by nature and the constantly changing seasons, weather patterns and nature’s life cycles, the experience of dining is never routine or boring.”
Students can also see into the kitchen and watch the food educators preparing breakfast and lunch. They can see the fresh herbs and vegetables they have planted growing in the school gardens. Teachers can also integrate movement and physical activity breaks before lunch by using the Great Lawn and the Piazza.
“In essence, when a dining experience is created to be joyful by design and deeply considered for the educational programming inherent to the space type, it reinforces the power of individual and group behavioral health connections between food/nutrition, physical activity and healthy choices,” explains Ms. Sorensen. “The inspirational quality afforded by these experiences are designed to enhance creative exploration, pique on-going curiosity and speak to the joy of learning for all ages with a real ‘edible’ celebration of healthy food, biodiversity and sustainable practices.”
Flexible furniture arrangements are pivotal design elements integral to the function of the Dining Commons as an enriched learning environment….Encouraging learning through customizable settings were strategies employed by the design team throughout the campus to increase creativity, engagement, concentration, and health among students.
“The classrooms, small group learning labs, media lab, intimate nooks and open spaces are all designed to facilitate individual, group and collaborative learning. The design anticipates the evolution of educational delivery methods and combines home classrooms as collaborative centers, including a variety of spaces and places outside the classroom. As practices expand to include the customization of programs for personalized, individualized learning, as well as peer-to-peer and blended learning environments, the campus is poised to adapt and provide,” explains Ms. Sorensen.
VS furniture is used extensively throughout the learning environments to give teachers and students a versatile and practical toolkit for hands-on and digital learning.
“The three key traits that make a flexible environment possible are mobility, agility and adaptability. Responsive settings are easy to alter as emergent learning opportunities arise,” says Ms. Sorensen. “The VS furniture fulfills all those basic needs while also providing critically important health co-benefits, and therefore better learning outcomes, by promoting less sedentary behavior through more active, movement-rich environments.
“It’s important,” she adds, “for teachers and students to have postural choice throughout the day and to have flexible furniture options to support unique, personalized learning styles and teaching platforms.”