A Space for Learning

A Space for Learning, is an exhibition organised by the Irish Architecture Foundation (IAF), which focuses on the outdoors.

A Space for Learning started life when the foundation invited established architects and young graduates to work with transition-year students to come up with different ways of looking at schools. At the beginning of this year 120 architects were paired with 1,500 students in 90 schools across the country.

The results of their work have been published in a new book and 10 of the projects appear in the exhibition in the gallery at the National College of Art Design, in Dublin.

At Mercy College in Coolock, Dublin, the students worked with graduate architects Faela Guiden, Helen Kelly and Laura O’Brien. The students and graduate architects transformed the school's interior courtyard into a space to eat, gather, learn and work as shown in picture below.











Student Nayla Abdulla says that, until she took part in the project, “architecture had always been about putting down a bunch of bricks together to fabricate some sort of establishment”.

Another student, Christina Olwill, adds that “before the project I thought architecture was a load of boring businessmen turning up to work, sitting alone at a table and spending the day drawing. Now I think architecture can change the way we live and work”.

St Mary’s Secondary School, Mallow, students worked with Chora Design Studio and their work as well as Mercy College Coolock has also been published in the new book with projects being displayed in the exhibition in the gallery at the National College of Art Design, in Dublin.

What the students and their architect mentors have come up with throughout A Space for Learning reveals an unsurprising emphasis on the informal areas of the school: the places of recreation, gathering and play.

Perhaps what is more surprising is that this is in line with current thinking in international educational practice. Some experimental schools in Iceland have been designed around open spaces. Classrooms are glassed in, and the children learn the value of mentoring, responsibility and thinking outside the confines of a linear lesson plan.

In Ireland, Department of Education policy dictates that contracts can be awarded only to architects who have previously designed a school or completed projects of a particular size. This leaves any room for innovation “in the in-between spaces, in how they’re brought together”, says Maria Donoghue, one of the Space for Learning architects.

“Students experience schools in the spaces where they interact with their peers. It’s not so much about the classroom itself.”

Whether or not we are aware of it, architecture exerts an influence on how we feel, how we act, even how we are able to move from place to place. In a school it can change the experience from being taught to learning.

Federico Scoponi, an Italian architect who worked with Sandford Park School in Ranelagh, in Dublin, asked the students what they had learned from the project.

He was delighted with the response of one student who said: “The psychology of architecture and how spaces affect your life and environment.”

Scoponi writes in the book: “A 16-year-old boy who understands that the built environment and architecture have their own psychology, which affects our everyday life, is the first step towards a sustainable architecture.”

And the dream of learning outside? It is actually an echo of the views of Margaret McMillan, the pioneering early-20th-century educator, who said: “Everything that can be taught outdoors cannot be taught indoors.”

A Space for Learning is published by the Irish Architecture Foundation (architecture, €12 including pp). The exhibition is at the NCAD Gallery, 100 Thomas St, Dublin 8, until January 29th, then touring nationwide.

(article and picture courtesy of Irish Times).