Somatic Action | Play. Influence of Architecture in Sex Differences
Some of the most successful places in the world such as street markets and bazaars have been the product of human actions and interactions rather than of professional and planned design. The idea behind this notion is comprised within the theory of Evidence-Based Design, a fundamental concept when shaping the built environment in a way that responds to the inhabitants and their synergy. This understanding is particularly important when designing learning environments for children. Sir Ken Robinson believes that intelligence is diverse, dynamic and interactive, and as such, allows no room for standardized designs that can serve any situation. Instead, the necessity for spaces that can adjust to each situation or the user becomes invaluable to the development of children’s academic and emotional growth.
This thesis researched design ideologies, human biology, pattern language, form language, and other theories with the intent of developing a new type of learning environment. As with any new typology, the results cannot be predicted unless tested and experienced, hence, the project had to be developed in a flexible way so that the outcomes collected over time became the evidence to propose changes and improvements for the future. This play-based learning environment required a structure that allowed the organizer/teacher to plug in and out learning games that could be rearranged as the results of the study became evident. The theories and studies in place were the drivers of the design, but the evidence collected from the continuous evaluation of the behavior of the children, and the consequential response to such behavior, would ultimately determine the success of this project.
The structure of this thesis was inspired by the built environment of honey bees. As with bees, the spaces were created within a wall in the shape of a honeycomb, composed of hexagonal prismatic cells that could nest various activities for children to develop their skills while moving and having fun.
The repeatable shape of the honeycomb could allow the arrangement to adjust in height and length according to the needs of the space where located. This would grant modularity to the design and provide the opportunity to repeat such design in other places, as long as the particular needs of the locations and users were addressed. Designed like a maze, it could also allow for the pathways, connections, and transitions to evolve over time. The idea that empowerment can be achieved through a combination of decision-making and learning environments was explored. The intent was to provide children in early education/kindergarten ages with the opportunity to make their own decisions with regards to their learning process. Learning games were designed specifically for each individual sex and their strong areas of development. Both boys and girls could decide if they wanted to take on bigger challenges by attempting tasks designed for the opposite sex, or if they wanted to achieve an easier challenge designed for their own sex. The entire time unaware of the underlying difference of the tasks based on sex.
Design ChallengeThe four basic considerations of this thesis were:
- Ability to be Interactive: An opportunity to learn through interaction. The ‘wall’ not just as a backdrop but as a learning toy containing more learning toys.
- Flexibility: One of the principles of universal design in education. Flexible spaces allow to accommodate all individual preferences and abilities.
- Movement: Movement as enabler of change. Movement provides opportunities for fidgety children to learn through action.
- Scale: One more of the principles of universal design in education. Children-size areas become key for the users to appropriate the spaces of the playground, letting them believe that the spaces belong to them, and they are not just intruders in an ‘adult world’.
When incorporating these considerations into the design, the main challenge faced was the need for flexible spaces that could adapt to future changes. Hence, the structure had to be designed in a way that was easy to assemble/disassemble by the organizer/teacher, without compromising the safety of the children.
The innovative concept behind the structure was inspired by pegboard walls. A glulam vertical panel with a standard configuration of holes would host the peg system composed by a fixed element on the side of the classroom and a removable element on the playground side. A screw-on cap would replace the removable element when needed. A maximum of six wooden panels would slide in the removable elements of the peg system creating the basic modules. A screw-on cap would lock the panels to prevent them from sliding out. The modules would then be combined in four basic configurations hosting learning games. The remaining panels would be placed to allow for circulation and connections between the spaces.
The design would be completed by the addition of tree houses to function as exits. These structures would be separated/connected to the ‘wall’ by wooden bridges. The intention was to make them visible from any point of the maze-like structure preventing children to become anxious when trying to circulate within the ‘wall’.
The creative structural system was the key element of this thesis since it allowed for adaptability and dynamism which
Physical ContextThe main goal of this learning environment was to combine play and movement towards the development of the specific skills of boys and girls.
The application was achieved by the design of a prototype that would function as a lego set with lightweight, easy to assemble pieces that could be rearranged by the teachers as the kids’ behavior changed. This prototype could be placed in any setting with enough height to accommodate at least one of the panels.
The four key terms used to describe the prototype were:
- Module: Basic unit of the design composed by an individual hexagonal prismatic cell.
- Nodes of Learning: Four distinctive configurations -mental rotation, sound recognition, puzzles, and face recognition- created by the combination of various modules (basic unit).
- Cells of Knowledge: Learning games designed for the specific needs of boys and girls to be plugged in the ‘nodes of learning’.
- Wall: Vertical pegboard-like structure divided in panels containing the hexagonal prismatic cells (‘nodes of learning’) which nest various ‘cells of knowledge’.
The site selected for the prototype was Maggie’s Morning School in Savannah, GA. The open area located on the North side of the building was ideal for the development of this thesis; its good size, interesting linear shape, and its connection with nature and with the building made it an ideal location for the design to be developed. The North wall of the building would be replaced by the prototype ‘wall’, providing the perfect framework for the project to be arranged in many different configurations.
Although the intention of this thesis was to create a prototype that could be situated in different locations, the specific needs of this particular location had to be addressed. Sun path, visuals from the classrooms, uses of the ‘wall’ from the classroom side, and other considerations were taken into account when designing the project to accommodate the needs of all users involved.
Some of the ‘modules’ where designed as windows allowing light and visuals between the classrooms and the green area of the playground. The interior side of the wall took advantage of the pegboard-like structure to accommodate shelves for the children. The stability of the structure was considered to provide a safe environment for children. A child-proof net was added in the upper part of the wall to prevent accidents. Finally, sustainability was also considered in the design, hence the addition of a green roof, a kinetic energy surface, and permeable rubber on the floors.