Interview: Furnished for movement
"We have created a classroom that takes account of the needs of students in classes 6 to 9, and is sustainable in the long term. The idea is to give the teenage brain the right conditions, both mental and physical."
Hjärnberikad & KAKA Architects
The teenage brain has special needs that set requirements for classroom design. Hjärnberikad and KAKA Architects have put their clever heads together and created a varied, exciting and relaxing classroom that gives the teenager confidence and a desire to learn.
For more than a decade, Linda Bellvik and Ulrika Ahlqvist have been working to convert brain research into practical pedagogy for schools, companies and organisations. Hjärnberikad wants to work for a better understanding of how our brains work and how they are affected by the environment around us. Linda and Ulrika have developed a concept with ten good habits related to food, movement, sleep and physical and mental environment that contribute to stimulating the health and well-being of the brain. The methodology is based on collaboration with leading brain researchers, including Rolf Ekman, who is a brain researcher in neurochemistry.
This classroom for students in classes 6 to 9 has been designed in close collaboration with KAKA Architects, Annika Hedeblom and Bodil Perneborn. Hjärnberikad and KAKA have been working together for a long time to realise brain-friendly environments on behalf of schools and companies and share the vision of more inclusive school environments that contribute to improved well-being. At KAKA, around 15 architects work on designing new preschools, schools and offices, and their commissions cover the whole spectrum from interior design to construction architecture and urban planning.
“We share a common approach, in which the physical, social and pedagogical learning environments are equally important in creating an optimal, complete learning space,” says Ulrika Ahlqvis at Hjärnberikad.
The teenage brain is a challenge, according to Linda Bellvik at Hjärnberikad.
“The teenage brain is a challenge, because it has a completely different chemistry than the child’s brain or an adult brain. It has an increased need for sleep and has also gone a little off course when it comes to developing executive functions such as control of impulses, management of feelings, logical thinking and risk assessment. The teenage brain is in a sensitive phase and we therefore need to treat it with particular care.”
A classroom that supports teenagers’ development and learning therefore needs to offer movement and stimulation in combination with security and opportunities for recuperation.
furnished for movement
This classroom encourages variation and movement in a number of ways. Divided into a number of different zones, it gives students and teachers the opportunity to change the furnishing of the classroom as required, explains Bodil Perneborn at KAKA.
"It should be possible to divide the classroom into a number of small zones that can be customised to the size of the groups and the activities in progress. The possibilities are marked by the different carpets on the floor and the drapes that can be used as dividers. But the furniture itself, for example the staggered seating in the corner, also exudes flexibility. In the staggered seating you can sit, stand or lie down. You can sit and work there, alone or in a group, or listen in to the classroom. But you can also turn the setup around and sit on cushions down on the floor and listen upwards."
Physical movement is another important factor for the teenage brain, according to Ulrika Ahlqvist.
“We weren’t made to sit still. We manage to sit still and listen for about 20 minutes, then we lose focus. We have therefore designed the classroom so that it encourages movement, with height-adjustable tables, balance boards, skipping ropes and pilates balls. The tables are also easy to move, so you can quickly clear a bigger space if you want to make room for a bit of a ‘brain break’.”
THE BRAIN WANTS TO REST
A teenagers’ sleep pattern means that the students tires easily It’s therefore important to design the classroom so that it’s possible to withdraw for rest and recuperation. If you want to work separately in small groups you can pull the drapes in front of the staggered seating or go into the small grouproom with the sofa and close the door. In the classroom there are also two section seatings with easy chairs that can be screened off with drapes. The built-in storage unit above it helps to make it particularly cosy.
“Storage is really important in a classroom, but unfortunately something that’s often neglected. Here we have chosen to build a generous-sized built-in storage unit, which both contributes to the spatiality and makes it easy to keep things organised and tidy. A storage unit with tight doors makes it possible to direct the students’ focus by putting away things that might have a distracting effect. As a result, the classroom takes on a calmer atmosphere,” explains Annika Hedeblom, architect at KAKA.
LIGHT AND GREENERY
The stimulating impression comes instead from the classroom’s carefully thought-out combinations of colours and textures. Damped colours in harmony, together with tactile materials – wood, carpets and drapes – create an exciting and cosy variation.
Light and greenery are important for the chemistry of the brain, and Hjärnberikad and KAKA have therefore worked actively to maximise the natural daylight entering the room by using large windows which also serve as seats. The artificial lighting is also varied, with space-creating vertical light. In the classroom there are also green plants.
But what about technology?
“The great thing about new technology is that you don’t need to be limited to a single whiteboard, but that you can be flexible. We work a lot with projection on walls and VR in small student groups – digitisation means you can move around however you want,” says Linda Bellvik.
THE CLASSROOMS OF THE FUTURE
This is only the beginning of the changes our learning environments are going through, Linda Bellvik thinks.
“At the moment, there’s a lot of research going on in this field, some of it in the form of different lab environments that are investigating the connections between the physical, social and pedagogical environment, with regard to new communications technology and flexi-spaces. Evidence-based research from these lab environments will give us an understanding of how we can create the classrooms of the future and at the same time offer security to students and teachers.”
Bodil Perneborn at KAKA thinks digitisation is going to affect classroom design to an ever greater extent.
“We can already see that traditional front-of-the-class teaching is on the decline. I think there will also be a greater focus on rest and recuperation. You shouldn’t need to go to the school nurse to be able to get some rest and feel that someone’s taking care of you a little. That opportunity is available in the classroom of the future!”
The brain is not made for sitting still. After 20 minutes sitting still, it loses concentration. The classroom should therefore have built-in opportunities for movement in the form of active sitting, height-adjustable tables and furniture that is easy to move around.
A safe brain is a smart brain. The classroom should provide both physical and social security. If correctly furnished, with the possibility of creating social spaces, the classroom can strengthen the students’ sense of belonging.
The brain benefits from recuperation. Therefore, the classroom should provide the opportunity for students to withdraw for rest and reflection, individually or together. This facilitates learning and increases well-being.
A safe environment need not necessarily be predictable. Flexible furniture that can easily be re-arranged creates anticipation of the next step of the learning: what’s going to happen now?
Variations in colour and texture stimulate the brain and contribute to a safe, attractive environment where the students feel at home, and where they want to return to.
Would you like to know more about how we can help you create active learning environments that support students and teachers?Contact us
Three colour concepts
For the classroom, KAKA Architects have created three different colour concepts inspired by nature – a place where the brain always feels at home: ‘Oatfield’ with green and yellow straw shades, ‘Waterside’ with blue, sandy and warm pink shades and ‘Lingonberry thicket’ with a hint of lingonberry and milk.