School architecture is an area of research at Indire that focuses on studying and analysing the relationship between educational space and learning time/schedule. In today’s knowledge society, schools need to deal with skills and abilities, which are different to those required by the industrial society, in order to avoid creating a dangerous gap between the world of training and education and the social models of new generations. For a long time, the classroom has been the main place for schooling; other spaces were only peripheral: each place in a school was designed for a specific use and remained under employed if the specific activity for which it was conceived was not carried out. Corridors, allowing teachers and students to move in the school, as well as gyms or labs, were designed for specific, fixed uses and had nothing to do with daily teaching. Today there is a need to see schools as a single, integrated space in which the various micro-environments, used for several purposes, have the same status. Learning spaces should be flexible, accessible, simple and able to meet people’s needs at any time. These are spaces that have an appropriate level of functionality and comfort to carry out multiple school activities.
Research activities started by observing innovative learning environments, within the research project “Spaces that teach”, focussing on the idea that the traditional classroom conveys a teaching metaphor which is too rigid and inadequate to meet current educational needs. Those needs require multifunctional, modular spaces, instead. The research project had three main areas of activity:
● international cooperation through participation in the OECD’s Group of National Experts on Effective Learning Environments;
● support for national education policy initiatives by analysing and researching national situations and examples of excellence at the international level in Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden;
● scientific support for schools and school networks that want to initialize a process of innovation in this domain.
The analysis and in-depth study carried out by Indire in recent years by the institute has led to the model described in the “Manifesto 1+4 educational spaces in the new millennium”.
“1” – means the classroom space, a group multifunctional learning environment which is the evolution of the traditional classroom, now open to the world. An environment with flexible furniture and corners connected to the other school areas.
“4” – these are other school spaces that are as meaningful as the classroom for teaching and learning activities. They are the Agora, the informal area, the individual area and the exploration area.
Physical spaces can only give a real contribution if they are provided to the teacher in a modular way that allows different forms of aggregation, that is in small, medium or larger groups.
To boost educational innovation in teaching and learning environments, analysing and studying architectural solutions, furniture and environmental research is a must. This means involving teachers in awareness-raising and training activities, so that they can become able to imagine new learning settings and adjust their teaching activities subsequently.
School architecture has to be innovative because it allows teaching to be transformed through the participatory support of schools and shared design based on theoretical research and field observation. Research will not come to the end by simply disseminating research results: in fact, it intends to transfer the knowledge acquired from the theoretical arena to the organisational situation by involving schools and regional bodies. With this in mind, a partnership was established with the USR [Ufficio Scolastico Regionale – Regional School Department] of Abruzzo and the Special Department for the Reconstruction of the Municipalities affected by the earthquake of 2016 [Comuni del Cratere] that led Indire to collaborate with architects, administration representatives, teachers and headteachers to design new schools and renovate existing ones. This was a participatory project because every party involved cooperated in the creation of spaces that are functional to educational activities and that allow the use of innovative training tools and methodologies.
The research structure