Designing for High-Impact Learning Spaces


Renowned theoretical physicist Albert Einstein once said, “I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” Today, it seems school officials and educators are finally catching on to Einstein’s wisdom by reconsidering the effectiveness of the environments in which students learn.

In fact, leaders are completely rethinking the design of learning facilities of the past, which were essentially intended for controlling students, restricting learning to a predetermined curriculum delivered by those in authority. In stark contrast to that outdated model, schools are now looking at their roles through a new lens; they have a vision of education that is freeing, unfolding, and discovering who we are, and our purpose as we live and work together.

As a result, the education paradigm is being disrupted by shifting student demographics, research focused on the science of learning, and the impact of new technologies on student performance. New teaching approaches demand new kinds of learning spaces to prepare today’s students for the future. As content becomes more dynamic, flexible, and accessible to a large number of students, schools and universities are looking at how that content is currently delivered and what types of changes need to be made in the design of physical learning spaces.

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interiors+sources Continuing Education Series articles allow design practitioners to earn continuing education unit credits through the pages of the magazine. Use the following learning objectives to focus your study while reading this issue’s article. To receive one hour of continuing education credit (0.1 CEU) as approved by IDCEC, read the article, then log in to take the corresponding exam or to earn 1 learning unit (LU) as approved by AIA, read the article, then log in to take the corresponding exam.

After reading this article, you should be able to:

  • Define the forces that are driving changes to today’s learning spaces.
  • Discuss how learning spaces are evolving to address these forces.
  • Identify how technology considerations need to be included in space design decisions for the digital literacy age.
  • Discuss new types of learning spaces that are emerging and suggested design elements for these classrooms of tomorrow.

This CEU will explore in greater detail the drivers that are imposing change in today’s schools, the evolution of learning spaces, and how technology and new types of learning environments will literally reshape the space design of classrooms for greater impact in the age of digital literacy.


If it were possible to rewind the clock back 100 years to 1917, we might be surprised at how vastly different the world looked then compared to the present day. For starters, the average life expectancy for men was merely 48 years, as opposed to 77 years today. In 1917, the average U.S. household earned just $800 per year, versus $73,000 in 2014 (the latest year with complete data). According to The Atlantic, the workplace looked far bleaker in the early 20th century for both men and women as well:

[W]ork for men was more widespread, more dangerous, worse paid, and well, just more annoying. According to the 1920 census, 85 percent of men over 14 were in the labor force, compared with just 69 percent for men over 16 today. It was the dawn of scientific management, with factory workers introduced to a brand new office colleague, the time clock. Manufacturing workers averaged 55 hours at work per week, 10 percent more than self-reported averages today. And the jobs were more dangerous: With a fatality rate of 61 deaths per 100,000 workers, the workplace was about 30 times more dangerous than it is today.

Women were much less likely to work, and a century ago, many were finding employment at elementary and high schools. The reason for women’s early entry into education in the U.S., however, is a little depressing. School boards preferred female teachers not only because they were seen as more loving, but also because they would do what male principals told them while accepting less than a man’s wage.

A few more notable statistics from the pre-1920 era add even greater contrast to the differences between life then and now:

  • Half of all families lived in rural areas or in towns with populations less than 2,500. In 1917, the population of Las Vegas was merely 800 people; in 2016, that number was 630,000.
  • There were about four times as many renters as homeowners, whereas today, the homeownership rate is above 60 percent. 
  • There were just 2 million cars on the roads, versus 255 million registered vehicles today.
  • Only 28 percent of American youths between the ages of 14 and 17 attended high school. 

It’s safe to say that things have changed tremendously over the course of a century, but sadly, our classrooms still look remarkably the same. In most schools across the country, the typical classroom layout is nearly identical to that of one from 1917 (see accompanying illustration). In fact, today’s classrooms in many ways reflect the workforce of the early 1900s. Back then, classrooms were designed to mirror the work being performed in factories during the Industrial Revolution. Just as workers stood at assembly lines producing Model T automobiles, children sat in rows facing forward toward the teacher, who was the sole source of knowledge.

But today’s students require more advanced skills to succeed in life, and as such, the educational system is experiencing a major disruption in the status quo. In today’s world, a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work. We need to embrace innovation and create a variety of educational opportunities to meet the diversity of students of all ages. To that end, a number of factors are driving the disruption to the educational paradigm, including:

  • Student Expectations: Students want educational opportunities to fit their lifestyles. They want a new system of learning—online and offline—traditional and the real world, inside and outside walled classrooms. They want a blend of online materials and hands-on experiences. They prefer learning environments that empower them to learn anytime, anyplace, and at any pace, both in school and beyond.
  • Faculty/Teacher Expectations: Shifting from lecture-based approaches to more collaborative work calls for new teaching methods. Research suggests that we must move from faculty-centered to student-centered teaching and learning environments. In fact, one North Carolina University case study established a highly collaborative, hands-on, computer-rich, interactive learning environment in large-enrollment physics courses, resulting in significantly improved performance in problem solving, increased conceptual understanding, improved attitude, and much higher success rates for females and minorities.
  • Employer Expectations: Employers are placing high importance on the mastery of competencies beyond basic content knowledge. Todays’ jobs require skills like innovation, communication, and digital literacy to name a few. A recent report titled, “Future Work Skills 2020,” concluded that to be successful in the next decade, “individuals will need to demonstrate foresight in navigating a rapidly shifting landscape of organizational forms and skill requirements. They will increasingly be called upon to continually reassess the skills they need, and quickly put together the right resources to develop and update these. Workers in the future will need to be adaptable lifelong learners.”
  • Competitiveness: Campuses and schools are feeling pressure to break down academic silos and create collaborative communities of innovative problem solvers in order to attract and retain students. Smart institutions are designing to support peer-to-peer, collaborative, experiential, and service-oriented pedagogies. (“Pedagogy” is a term used to define the method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept.)

In light of these factors, it is imperative that we challenge old notions of learning spaces and focus on what students need to achieve the desired learning outcomes. By shifting our thought process, learning spaces become critical for faculty to be able to deliver these new innovative teaching methods, or pedagogies.

There are three key components relevant to this CEU that are required to develop and implement forward-thinking pedagogies, including Crossover Learning, Embodied Learning, and Learning Through Discussion, as identified in “The Innovating Pedagogy Report 2016,” produced by Open University in collaboration with the Learning Sciences Lab. These new methods of instruction necessitate space design that breaks from the traditional educational paradigm described earlier and, in fact, are already in use and are having an increasing effect on education. 

  1. Crossover Learning: This concept proposes that students want learning environments to be available anywhere and anytime. The idea that learning can only take place in a traditional classroom is no longer applicable. Instead, we should focus on open, flexible design spaces with great diversity. For example, learning in informal settings such as museums and after-school clubs can link educational content with issues that matter to learners in their lives. These connected experiences spark further interest and motivation to learn.
  2. Embodied Learning: In embodied learning, the aim is that mind and body work together so that physical feedback and actions reinforce the learning process. Technology to aid this includes wearable sensors that gather personal physical and biological data, visual systems that track movement, and mobile devices that respond to actions such as tilting and motion. This approach can be applied to the exploration of aspects of physical sciences such as friction, acceleration, and force, or to investigate simulated situations such as the structure of molecules. Creating spaces that allow for physical movement and flexibility for students and teachers are key to support this methodology.
  1. Learning Through Discussion/Argumentation: Interactions with peers provide students opportunities to construct new thoughts and ideas around not only their beliefs, but those of others. Teachers can spark meaningful discussion in classrooms by encouraging students to ask open-ended questions, re-state remarks in more scientific language, and develop and use models to construct explanations. When students argue in scientific ways, they learn how to take turns, listen actively, and respond constructively to others. As a result, learning spaces need to encourage conversation, collaboration, and presentation opportunities.

For learning spaces to facilitate these new models of instruction, the design must ensure that the environment is comfortable, flexible (allowing for different seating patterns and configurations), and supports creativity rather than just productivity. Multipurpose spaces tend to lend themselves to a variety of learning styles and activities described above.

Given these challenges to the existing educational model, how should educational spaces change in response to them? The next section will encourage designers and educators alike to consider space design in context of the future of the workplace and the skills required to be successful.


Throughout history, classrooms have been designed with a strong correlation to the workforce and societal needs at that time. As discussed at the onset of this article, the current educational paradigm was modeled after the Industrial Revolution of the early 20th century. In order to think about what spaces will look like in the future, we need to catapult ourselves forward and imagine not only what the world will look like, but also how learning spaces will be able to accommodate these changes.

In planning educational facilities for tomorrow, designers and school faculty would be wise to ask questions such as: What skills will students need to be successful in the workforce? What will jobs look like? What technological tools will be needed to effectively complete tasks in the workplace?

Fortunately, we already have the answer to many of these questions. According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2016 “Future of Jobs” report, the top 10 workforce skills that employers will be looking for in 2020 include the following:

  1. Complex Problem Solving             
  2. Critical Thinking
  3. Creativity
  4. People Management
  5. Coordinating with Others
  6. Emotional Intelligence
  7. Judgement and Decision Making
  8. Service Orientation
  9. Negotiation
  10. Cognitive Flexibility

The WEF suggests that the major driver of change to the skillsets required of future workers is the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. This revolution promises to bring us advanced robotics and autonomous transport, artificial intelligence and machine learning, advanced materials, biotechnology, and genomics.

“These developments will transform how we live and work,” the WEF report notes. “Some jobs will disappear, others will grow and jobs that don’t even exist today will become commonplace. What is certain is that the future workforce will need to align its skill set to keep pace.”

As you look over the list of job skills above, think about learning spaces you have seen lately. Do they encourage activities that reinforce these new skills? Or are they a hindrance to the kinds of abilities and activities that will spur innovation and creativity?

In the same way that we need to consider the skill sets required in the future, we also need to think about the types of jobs we will be preparing our students for, and how teaching and learning spaces will model these future work environments. For example, the following four futuristic jobs were identified in the “Jobs of 2030” report by the Canadian Scholarship Trust Plan in collaboration with a number of futurists:

  • Solar Technology Specialists: These specialists may own land where they manage a large spread of solar grids and coordinate the harvested power to stations and other communities; or they may work as consultants in cities and other urban spaces, helping building owners to design, build, and maintain solar panels.
  • Robot Counselor: In 2030, robots will play a greater part in providing home care and services than they do now. The robot counselor will be a resource for picking the right robot for a family by observing how they interact and identifying their needs and lifestyle.
  • Garbage Designer: Garbage designers will find creative ways to turn the byproducts of manufacturing processes into high-quality materials for making another entirely separate product. They will also design processes to make products with very little waste.
  • Nostalgist: Nostalgists are interior designers specializing in recreating memories for retired people. The elderly of 2030 who don’t want to reside in a typical “retirement village” will have the luxury of living in a space inspired by their favorite decades or places.

Clearly, technology is playing an increasingly significant role in the skills and jobs that the future will require. Schools and universities recognize the importance of technology in learning spaces and realize they need greater mobility and better technology infrastructure to support tools that encourage global communication and collaboration. Among the national trends being addressed in educational environments to harness the power of technology are:

  • Portable Technologies: Spaces will need to be designed around students bringing in their own devices (BYOD). One obstacle worth noting is that some instructors may be hesitant to move to this; however, it’s important for truly innovative learning spaces. Experts argue that the PC as we know it will become obsolete, and smartphones and tablets will be the norm. The concept of large computer labs go away and are being replaced with personalized learning devices that encourage digital collaboration.
  • Cloud Technologies: As campuses and schools move a majority of their IT requirements to the cloud, it frees up facility space and reduces cost. Cloud technology enables students to access lecture materials online and from home. These may be in the form of videos, podcasts, or slides.
  • Visual Media and Displays: Classrooms should be designed with a variety of media to allow for different learning activities. These tools could include projectors, white boards, digital cameras, video production, and touchscreen panels.

However, not all technology is here to stay. According to Campus Technology magazine, there are a number of current technologies that are already at risk of facing obsolescence. When faculty members across the U.S. were asked what technology would disappear by 2027, the most common answers were: desktop computers (mentioned by 29 percent of respondents); laptops; overhead projectors; traditional presentation software (such as PowerPoint); CDs, DVDs and their players; and computer labs. While it may be difficult to imagine the ubiquitous personal computer disappearing altogether, the meteoric rise of tablets and smartphones capable of increasingly expanding functions and processing make the prediction highly likely in the near future.

On the flip side, there are also a number of developing technologies that are gaining importance. As revealed in the same survey, faculty were asked which technologies will become increasingly significant over the next decade. The following two existing technologies topped the list:

  • Augmented Reality: The integration of digital information with the user’s environment in real time. Unlike Virtual Reality, which creates a totally artificial environment, Augmented Reality uses the existing environment and overlays new information on top of it.
  • Gamification: An educational approach to motivate students to learn by using video game design and elements (i.e. rewards) in learning environments. Examples include rewarding students with “badges” like those in a video game, holding competitions, and integrating educational video games into the curriculum.

Given the speed at which technology changes today, these examples could be replaced by newer innovations in the years ahead. What won’t change is the fact that technology will continue to play an increasingly vital role in the planning, design, and use of education environments. In the next section, we’ll consider a number of fundamental design principles that will help accommodate the skills, jobs, and technological tools of tomorrow.


Until this point, it’s been established that the old educational paradigm is being disrupted by a number of new teaching methodologies and challenged by emerging technologies that will reshape environments of the future. But the question remains: can a redesign of the educational spaces significantly improve learning outcomes, and if so, how should those spaces look and function to maximize students’ potential?

A paper published in the journal Building and Environment in January 2013 confirmed that classroom design could be attributed to a 25 percent impact on a student’s progress over the course of a year. The study was conducted over the 2011-12 academic year with 751 students in 34 classrooms in seven different U.K. schools, and revealed that the difference between the best and the worst-designed classrooms found a full year’s worth of academic progress.

As designers of educational facilities are already aware—and as this study, among others, confirm—the design of the physical environment has a measurable impact on learners and their performance. In fact, 73 percent of the variation in student performance driven at the class level can be explained by the building environment factors measured in the report. The Building and Environment study also uncovered six design parameters that had a significant effect on learning, which should be considered for existing and future education projects:

  1. Color: Concerns the color of the walls, floors, furniture, and visual displays in the classrooms, and if they provide appropriate visual stimulation. Upper classmen prefer warmer colors in the classroom while younger students desire cooler colors in bright environments.
  2. Complexity: Refers to an appropriate level of stimulation (without being cluttered) within the space. Additionally, larger buildings can accommodate diverse opportunities for alternative learning activities.
  3. Choice: Has to do with the quality of the furniture in the classrooms as well as the comfort, and providing choices of “interesting” and ergonomic tables and chairs.
  4. Flexibility: Should recognize a diversity of learners, a diversity of content, and a diversity of teaching styles, so classrooms should include “zones” to support varied learning activities, and allow the teacher to easily change the configuration.
  5. Connections: Refers to encouraging opportunities for interaction between students and between students and teachers. Clear wayfinding and wide corridors to ease movement can also help facilitate this concept.
  6. Light: Concerns the amount of natural light in the classroom as well as the quality of the electrical lighting used.

According to Professor Peter Barrett, the study’s lead author, “It has long been known that various aspects of the built environment have an impact on people in buildings, but this is the first time a holistic assessment has been made that successfully links the overall impact directly to learning rates in schools.”

Now that we’ve discussed the “why” and “what,” let’s move on to how to design for these evolving spaces. Given the design characteristics and parameters listed above, a number of classroom design principles emerge from research findings, including:

  • Space should work for both current learning methods and emerging technologies.
  • Classrooms should support student-directed learning.
  • Student activities should drive the design.

As pedagogical approaches continue to influence educational spaces (i.e. a collaborative approach, a project-based-learning approach, etc.), a number of learning environments are emerging in schools and universities to cater to these new drivers, includin: faculty spaces, collaborative environments with flexible furniture, small group spaces, large spaces with fixed furniture, common areas, and innovation spaces. (Specific design considerations for each space in light of pedagogies and technology will be discussed in detail in the next section). Further, architects and designers need to consider a need to consider a number of variables as they tackle these types of developing spaces. These factors include movement through the space, furniture configurations, writable surfaces, transparency, future proofing, connectivity, natural lighting, creativity in layout and furnishings, and what technologies will be utilized. Finally, as you plan and design new learning spaces, it’s important to keep evolving trends in mind to ensure they are future-proofed so they can meet the needs of end users for at least three- to five-years out.


Today’s changing learning spaces require faculty to be innovative in their teaching and look at them through a new lens. How does an organization accomplish that? One way is by allowing faculty to experience pioneering teaching as learners, also known as “sandboxing.”

Sandboxing is a transformative learning experience that can benefit all stakeholders in an educational facility—faculty, students, and staff. Learning is more effective if one can “practice” what is being learned, and a sandbox experience provides learners an opportunity to become immersed in new situations and comfortable with new skills. Faculty can participate in a realistic experience that helps them internalize what engaged learning means and assists them in transforming the way they view their teaching. Trying out new teaching methods, for a short period, is a form of sandboxing. Observing peers and receiving instruction and support on using new academic technologies are also examples. All can help build faculty confidence and change practice.

The furnishings in a sandbox should be determined by what activities faculty envision happening in the space. These spaces may require a good deal of storage, flexible and moveable furniture, and writeable surfaces. The following are several examples of what teachers can do in a sandbox environment:

  • A Learning Lab: A flexible lab designed for pedagogy experimentation and research.
  • A Pilot Space: A place for testing emerging technologies or furnishings that impact teaching and learning.
  • A Makerspace: An informal, creative sandbox that encourages inventive thinking with hands-on experiences.
  • A Decision Theater: A sandbox for groups to ask “what if” questions and debate scenarios about complex challenges.


Now let’s turn our attention to environments designed specifically around students. Below, we’ll consider six different space types and, where applicable, discuss the corresponding pedagogy, space considerations, and technological tools that will make the classroom most conducive to learning for tomorrow’s students.

  1. Collaborative Spaces. Collaboration classrooms encourage students to become active and reflective learners, such as in an Active Learning Space. This pedagogy is associated with discussions/argumentations that might start as a whole group activity and then break into teams for discussion and evaluations. It encourages digital-age literacy skills such as communication, collaboration, and teamwork. It also provides students a social context where they can engage in problem-based activities and simulations. Faculty members are seen as facilitators or moderators for the whole group, not as a lecturer (in contrast to the existing educational paradigm).

Flexible furniture such as reconfigurable tables, chairs, flipcharts or whiteboards, and displays are needed in collaborative classrooms, and seating should be comfortable. Students are motivated by being given the choice of where to work in the classroom, with a variety of furniture types to choose from. As such, designers should provide a diversity of spaces for a diversity of learners and diversity of content. Mobility is also important for seating and desks so that the room can be arranged to support that day’s activities. Design in video/audio capabilities should allow content to be shared and support virtual collaboration.

If clients complain that mobile furniture causes chaos or requires the room to be rearranged each time a different instructor uses it, suggest they put in place guidelines and requirements for re-setting the room once an instructor is finished with it.

When it comes to technology in these collaborative environments, connectivity is a must. Interactive wall screens are a great idea, along with a good quantity of writeable surfaces such as whiteboards and flip charts. If budgets allow, consider implementing live, two-way video and audio so content can be shared—not only with those in the room, but also with those participating remotely.

Collaborative spaces support a Flipped Classroom teaching style.  In Flipped Classrooms, the lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed. The instructor either records himself delivering the material, or creates slides or locates existing videos or podcasts which cover the topic. The lecture is then viewed at home or another place outside of the classroom as a video, podcast, or slides while in-class time is devoted to work typically done as homework, or discussions. Students use in-class time to apply their knowledge. They deepen their understanding of the topic with the teacher acting as a facilitator versus a lecturer.

  1. Small Group Spaces. Also called Huddle Rooms, Studios, Presentation Spaces, or Drop Zones, these are environments where students come together to apply what they’ve learned. Content is taught through small group activities such as Problem Based Learning (PBL), case studies, role playing, and other activities that encourage students to work actively within a small group. Students may break into small groups and use these spaces for activities or project work after attending a lecture or discussion with the full class. These spaces encourage presentation opportunities, and students (or even staff) may use these areas in groups or individually.

Seating in small group environments should be comfortable, yet functional with attached tablets or other types of worksurfaces to help capture ideas. It’s common for these types of spaces to utilize glass walls to allow acoustic privacy but provide transparency at the same time. While mobility is often used in these spaces, it isn’t as critical as in collaborative flexible spaces, for example. A current trend is to locate these types of spaces within learning commons or libraries.

These rooms should be outfitted with software/hardware that facilitate collaboration and provide cloud computing services to minimize needed infrastructure. Video conference tools should also be utilized to include others who are remote (i.e. Skype).

  1. Large Fixed Spaces. In these environments, students are typically forward-facing, listening, and documenting information as needed. Large, fixed-furniture spaces support Didactic Instruction (instructor delivering information through lecture or presentation), as opposed to the Socratic method, in which the teacher does not give information directly, but asks students questions and they discuss.

Tiered seating is most effective in large, fixed spaces to allow line of sight, and to support some discussion with others. Worksurfaces large enough to hold a tablet/laptop and paper materials are also a must. With the exception of university settings, this type of room is seeing some decline.

To build in some flexibility (future proofing) into these spaces, consider specifying stackable stackable seating versus fixed seating. Also, think about incorporating multiple displays, and don’t overlook outlets for today’s and tomorrow’s students to plug in their electronic devices.

  1. Common Spaces. Common spaces often are used for multiple purposes, which may include informal learning, and are also very important for commuter students in higher education.  These spaces might be used for self-directed learning, where individual students or groups can study or engage in project work. Common areas may also be used for recreational purposes, such as playing video games. This is a good example of the trend for learning to spill out of formal spaces and into informal spaces.

The key here is to incorporate comfortable seating and furniture that can accommodate many uses. Durability is important in these high-traffic areas, so consider high-performance upholsteries and furnishings with cleanability. Some spaces have a living room, or hospitality-like feel to them, to ensure the area is a place where students enjoy spending time.

Common spaces should support either wired or wireless equipment, whether students bring their own or the school or university provides the hardware. Personal technologies such as iPads, tablets, and smartphones may be used in these common spaces so access to Wi-Fi is important, and ample access to outlets should also be considered.

  1. Innovation Spaces. As students become inventors, creators, developers, and designers, their spaces must evolve to meet those needs. These spaces are also frequently referred to as Makerspaces, Hackerspaces, Fab Labs, Digital Development Labs, or Game Design Labs.

At its core, an Innovation Space can help develop creativity and interest in students for science, technology, engineering, math, and the arts. In an Innovation Space, a group of people in a single space may be working on projects either alone or in groups. Makerspaces function as a sort of mecca of peer learning and knowledge sharing. Although formal and scheduled presentations can occur, much of the learning is spontaneous and student-driven. If an instructor is present, they take on the role of a guide, rather than a lecturer. They may help with planning and answering questions, but ultimately the students takes the lead, which gives them a sense of ownership. Additionally, they often will help instruct their peers. 

Consider utilizing a wide variety of furnishings for these spaces to maximize flexibility.  Many projects require substantial, durable worksurfaces, and counter- or bistro-height tables are often used. Seating and tables should be easily movable so the room can be rearranged to accommodate current projects. Walls and tables with writable surfaces can help students plan their inventions.

A variety of tools and materials will be used so storage and safety are critical considerations. Equipment may need to be plugged in so don’t scrimp on power outlets and consider placing them directly into worksurfaces for added convenience. Students will often use tools and art supplies, so durable surfaces such as laminate or metal is a consideration. High performance upholsteries are important, since food or drink may be allowed.


As this article has made clear, the educational system is undergoing a sea change in terms of the pedagogies and technologies that are emerging to help schools and universities provide the best possible environments for students. And yet, the physical design of a majority of classrooms is ill-equipped to effectively accommodate these new “disruptions” to the existing paradigm.

As new information and technologies are made available, it is imperative that learning environments evolve with these developments. The impetus to update outdated modes of instruction lies with school administrators and educators, of course; however, architects and designers also play a vital role. As they are commissioned by clients to help create the classrooms of tomorrow, design practitioners must look outside the current educational “box” toward these exciting methodologies of instruction and apply sound design principles that help support them.

While the future of the educational landscape may be unclear and subject to changing government regulations, standards, and funding, what remains unchanged is the fact that the design community is uniquely positioned to leverage and apply the best practices and research we have today to create the most dynamic, high-impact learning spaces of tomorrow.

Trends: The Rise of Makerspaces

With the Maker Movement in full swing, creatives and marketing professionals alike are celebrating “the glory of handmade creation,” as Adweek puts it. But beyond the world of consumerism, the movement is also leveraging the power of both education and mobility. Makerspaces—defined as places of invention, exploration, and creation—are popping up as standalone venues as well as temporary or movable exhibits in places like schools, libraries, museums, and community centers. Some have even reportedly appeared in the form of mobile trucks or bike trailers that offer unique, hands-on learning experiences within their communities.

“For those with the drive to expand opportunities to make through makerspaces, finding the space can often be a formidable barrier. Fortunately, makers are clever folks, and are continually finding alternative ways to think about spaces,” according to MakerEd, a non-profit organization that supports and empowers educators and communities—particularly, those in underserved areas—to facilitate meaningful making and learning experiences with youth.

These informal communities are representative of a new mindset among students, educators, artists, scientists, inventors, and consumers that finds value in the art and science of handcrafted products as well as the flexible, almost nomadic nature of their members.  

According to the Shop! Association’s 2016 Trend Report, “[T]he rise of the maker culture is closely associated with the rise of hackerspaces (places in which people with an interest in computing or technology can gather to work on projects while sharing ideas, equipment, and knowledge), Fab Labs (small-scale workshops offering personal, digital fabrication capabilities), and other ‘maker spaces,’ including over 100 each in Germany and the U.S. As maker culture increases in popularity, hackerspaces and Fab Labs are also becoming more common in public libraries and universities, such as MIT and Carnegie Mellon (specifically around ‘shop’ areas like the MIT Hobby Shop and CMU Robotics Club).”

For designers and architects serving clients who are looking to create makerspaces or simply embrace the trend, the Shop! Association offers the following strategies to keep in mind about this thriving movement:

  • Get your hands dirty. With this DIY-influenced mindset, it’s all about a hands-on approach. Make sure end users are given the tools and spaces to work with their hands and bring their ideas to life.
  • Don’t shy away from pop-ups. Mobility and the ability to work anywhere are the hallmarks of the digital era. Makers convene wherever opportunities present themselves; all they need are the tools, materials, and temporary space to give birth to new ideas. Set up labs and incubators for creativity wherever space permits.
  • Build public partnerships. Public spaces that already exist in the form of museums, libraries, schools, and community centers are the perfect places to host temporary maker events that will inspire. Partnering with these institutions brings value to them, the community, and the brands that support them.
  • Nurture creativity. Help aspiring makers to explore, create, and innovate by facilitating workshops with local artisans who have perfected their crafts. Offer challenges that stretch their thinking and reward their efforts.
  • Incorporate technology. With the emergence of 3D technology, the Maker Movement isn’t just about traditional crafts and trades, but is also highly technical. Scientific innovations are being discovered as makers push the boundaries of new materials and techniques in the science of creating by hand.

This article was adapted from the CEU “Designing for High Impact Learning Spaces” by National Office Furniture and Nancy Sturm of the Sextant Group.



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