Shaping the future of learning environments: emerging paradigms and best practices

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Whether in school buildings or university campuses the educational process involves many activities that include knowledge acquisition and assimilation, testing students’ motivation and academic performance, and faculty and teachers’ productivity. The way in which we approach the planning, design, and our overall perception of learning environments makes powerful statements about how we view education; how educational buildings are designed tells us much about how teaching and learning activities occur. Concomitantly, how these activities are accommodated in a responsive educational environment is a critical issue that deserves special attention. While it was said several decades ago that a good teacher can teach anywhere, a growing body of knowledge—derived from knowledge on “evidence-based design” suggests a direct correlation between the physical aspects of the learning environment, teaching processes, and learning outcomes. In its commitment to introduce timely and pressing issues on built environment research, Open House International presents this special edition to debate and reflect on current discourses on sustainable learning environments.

As a guest editor of this edition, my personal interest, acquaintance, and experience of learning environments come primarily from working with Henry Sanoff in the early nineties on a research project—funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and conducted at the School of Architecture at North Carolina State University—addressing environments for young children, in which a number of collaborative mechanisms for understanding and anatomizing the learning environment are developed, while exploring the wide of variety of needs and interests that are mandated by different user types (Sanoff, 1994, 1995, 2002). Such an experience was enhanced by my involvement with Adams Group Architects in Charlotte, North Carolina in a research and consultancy capacity during the period between 2001 and 2004 (Salama, 2002, Salama and Adams 2003 a. and b., Salama, 2004, Salama, 2007). Several strategic planning projects, pre-design studies, and participatory programming and design were developed for schools in North Carolina.

A worldwide commitment to designing responsive environments conducive to learning is witnessed in many academic settings. This is evident in a recent colloquium conducted by Colloquia of Lausanne, Switzerland, and in the recent efforts by recent practices in both developing and developed countries (Knapp, Noschis, and Pasalar, 2007; DesignShare, 2008; NCEF, 2008). Notably, in many schools of architecture the subject is being debated through research and design where future generations of architects are exploring possibilities of shaping the future of learning environments. An important example among many others is the studio project undertaken at the Post Graduate Level at Queen’s University Belfast and coordinated by Alan M. Jones and Karim Hadjri. In this project and through designing a context-based high school in Belfast, students are developing a deeper insight into the understanding of sustainable design parameters including lighting experience and the distinctive characteristics of the spatial environment and its impact on learning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-128
Number of pages128
JournalOpen House International
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 30 Mar 2009


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