Learning About Learning : Designing Learning Spaces at Scotch College

Published: Monday 15 December 2014

CEFPI researchers joined forces with Scotch College staff and students and Curtin University architecture students to investigate the design process for new learning facilities. Studio Coordinator and CEFPI member Lara Mackintosh shares her thoughts on the project.

This third year architecture studio explored opportunities for transformation through the design of sustainable learning spaces. Twenty five students from Curtin University were responsible for designing a hypothetical project on the Senior Campus at Scotch College, Claremont. Although the semester officially ended with an exhibition at Curtin as part of the Annual End of Year celebrations, a second exhibition at Scotch College, held in conjunction with the CEFPI WA AGM, enabled students to present their work to CEFPI members and the Scotch College community. In addition, during the course of the semester, CEFPI WA members - Leigh Robinson and Laurence Lim from Taylor Robinson Architects; and Dani Martin and Janine Betz of the WA Mayfield team have been involved in sharing their experience and time.

While the final outcome of the studio was significant, as 10 masterplans and 25 individual projects were produced by the students, so too was the design process. As part of their authentic learning experiences, opportunities were found to connect the designers (Curtin students) with the client group (Scotch students and staff) in a number of ways. Scotch staff and students reflected on their learning spaces and how the school interacts with its community. Curtin students talked to staff and students, listened to their stories and responded to the learning and social needs of the school community. In doing so, the experience has tested current thinking and practices of learning in both staff and students alike.

As Studio Coordinator, I have found this studio challenging in so many ways. On a personal level, as I have sought to explore ideas relating to transformative learning in architecture, I have enjoyed the challenge of providing provoking, engaging and diverse learning experiences for those involved. The typical systems in which learning takes place, where individual assessment is focussed on outcomes, has meant that students in this process driven studio have had to not only meet the expectations set, but exceed them. In a society where risk is very carefully managed, getting different age groups of learners together, both face to face and online, required compliance with regulations and careful consideration of how information was shared. The professionals involved, teachers and architects alike, who operate within an environment where opportunities to reflect and be self-critical are not normally accommodated, responded to the challenge with enthusiasm and a willingness to embrace change.

And the rewards have been significant. Some students found that new ideas and a different way of thinking about design were prompted by simply working in a different space. This has the potential of informing their future practices. Staff at Scotch are keen to continue the discussions about their learning spaces, and extend the scope of the project. The background research undertaken by the students has resulted in a complex and deep understanding of community and place. It demonstrates the potential for new approaches to understanding client needs and analysing site.

This has been a transformative project for all involved. I would particularly like to thank Chris Menage and Alec O'Connell at Scotch College for their support and enthusiasm. The studio has provided a framework for future projects, and it is hoped that similar studios can be run with many more schools in the future.

Dani Martin

EIW Architects, WA