Learning Environments WA Notre Dame Visit 2016

Published: Monday 4 April 2016

Learning Environments Australasia WA Chapter members recently returned to the University of Notre Dame for what has become an annual day of engagement with third year Education Students on the subject of learning space design.

Organised by Stuart Neal (Slavin Architects) and Anne Coffey from Notre Dame, the event took place on Monday March 14th, and began with a Lecture presented by Paul Rossen and Leon Slattery (Parry & Rosenthal Architects) focusing on the link between pedagogy and learning space design. Paul also put particular emphasis on the importance of masterplanning to assist in the coherent development of a school campus, and showed several examples illustrating how introducing a masterplan can transform even the most haphazardly developed sites.

The slide show then presented a number of case studies of both new and refurbished school buildings, the students being particularly impressed by examples of how existing, outdated learning spaces had been transformed into exciting and dynamic new environments. The majority of projects presented were located in WA and many had been designed by Learning Environments Australasia members.

In preparation for the afternoon workshop, students were then asked to identify and photograph a learning space they liked. The workshop session began by displaying these photos, prompting discussion on the merits of each space. Students then broke into small groups of 5 or 6 who were assigned a plan of an outdated existing school building and were then asked to develop ideas for transforming it into a space they would like to teach and learn in. Each group was assigned an Architect to facilitate in developing ideas. Stuart, Paul and Leon were joined by Lara Mackintosh (Curtin University & Viridis Architecture) and Michael Smith (MCDF Architects) for this session.

The students drew from their past experiences, not only from their own education history but also from their more recent practical experience, identifying both good and bad examples of spaces they had taught in as student teachers. 

Interestingly, in spite of being given the option of demolishing and designing a new building from scratch, all of the groups opted to keep their existing spaces and find ways to improve them. Their ideas ranged from the simple, such as arranging furniture differently, right through to significant changes to the building envelope, including adding new teaching wings to the buildings to create additional learning and break-out spaces. Many students were excited to realise the difference that even minor changes can make to improve the functionality and flexibility of a space.

The students then presented their proposals to the group and their ideas were enthusiastically received. Post event feedback has indicated that the students have found the sessions very valuable.

The WA Chapter is hoping to expand this engagement by making the Lecture and Workshop available to other Universities with undergraduate teaching programs. In another exciting development, the WA Chapter will also be providing a scholarship for an education student to attend this year’s National Conference ‘Exchange’ in Melbourne, and a number of Notre Dame students have been keen to apply!

Michael Smith
MCDF Architects