Linking Architecture and Education: Sustainable Design for Learning Environments
Taylor, Anne (2009).
Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press; 451 pages. $100. ISBN 9780826334077.
In Linking Architecture and Education, Anne Taylor has compiled a career of research into an extensive resource for architects, administrators, educators, and anyone else involved in the design of learning environments. Dr. Taylor founded and served as director of the Institute for Environmental Education in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of New Mexico, where she directed research that examined the effects of the built environment on children. In this book she advocates for a series of design principles developed through years of teaching, research, and professional consultancy on the design of learning environments. The book places primary emphasis on the design of schools and schoolyards, with consideration also given to informal learning spaces such as museums and playgrounds. Aimed at providing a common language for design professionals and educators, Taylor attempts to link educational goals and learning theories to design principles through the use of numerous charts and graphics woven throughout the volume. The book is loosely organized around five key themes: philosophical foundations, organizational strategies, the building as a teaching tool or “three-dimensional textbook,” future trends, and fostering ecological stewardship. The first four themes serve as the topics for the book sections, providing a sequential organization and unifying structure to the extensive literature. Stewardship is addressed in four separate chapters—one for each section of the book.
The organization of the book is driven by Taylor’s aspirations to transform the educational built environment through a series of holistic-design guidelines including: design criteria that is informed by the users’ developmental needs; architectural form that evolves from curriculum and learning theory; educational spaces that are flexible and modeled after the design studio; learning landscapes; community engagement through co-location, multi-use design, and the community as living laboratory; and post-occupancy user guides and evaluation. Along the way she incorporates supplemental information in the form of case studies, photographs, charts, and visual and verbal commentary from colleagues. These are organized in a brilliantly colored and graphically coded format of sidebar information, design tools, designer perspectives, and stewardship forums. At times this rich array of resources and varied perspectives disrupts the flow of the book—obscuring the points presented instead of punctuating them. But, perhaps more significantly, they also create the possibility for an alternative, nonlinear, reading of the book. Students, design and education professionals, parents, and community members may find this secondary organization helpful in using the text as a sourcebook of examples and best practices both to inform the design of new learning spaces as well as to identify opportunities to make more effective use of existing spaces.
The link between pedagogy and architectural design is made clear throughout the book, with related concepts often introduced through charts and diagrams and further reinforced by case examples. In section one, for example, Taylor links philosophical theories to the roles of the learner and teacher, the curriculum, and instructional strategies. She also links these theories to the role of the architect, the design process, and the form of the physical environment. A case study of Reggio Emilia preschools in Italy then demonstrates how aspects of the building design can support the educational philosophy of the school. Stakeholders in design processes may benefit from understanding how philosophy informs practice, and Taylor justifies combining this information into a single chart as a starting point for design discussion between disciplines. Often such diagrams in the book successfully illustrate key relationships between architecture and education, but at times the format is problematic. For example, the chart could easily be misinterpreted by the reader as a prescription for a particular design process or architectural style based on the educational philosophy of the client. In general, however, Taylor successfully relates educational and architectural concepts in clear and meaningful ways. Design students and practitioners may appreciate the succinct overview of major educational theories in section two, whereas educators may find section three particularly useful for the long list of suggestions about how to use the educational facility as a learning object.
Taylor argues that the design process is itself a learning experience. She uses the “knowing eye” as a term throughout the text to focus attention on her goal of promoting a new holistic and deep understanding about the educational built environment. While the goal is commendable, the use of the “knowing eye” is unfortunate. Rooted in the field of visual literacy, the term privileges the visual aesthetic of architectural and landscape design to the exclusion of the other senses. The use of the building and its landscape as a three-dimensional textbook affords the learner the opportunity to engage all the senses—sight, touch, sound, smell, and even taste—in a truly holistic learning experience. Although many of the case studies and design tools presented by Taylor do support a multi-modal approach to learning, she missed an opportunity to give equal consideration to other modalities of environmental experience in the design of educational spaces.
This book goes a long way toward providing a balanced and multi-disciplinary perspective on the design of learning spaces, but the architectural bias does persist. The designer perspective overshadows that of the educator, and the voice of the learner—as often the case in books about school design—is largely absent.
University of Colorado
Laura Malinin is a licensed architect and instructor in the College of Architecture and Planning at the University of Colorado where she is also pursuing a joint Ph.D. in Cognitive Science and Design & Planning. Her areas of interest include cognitive studies of creativity and design processes, visual-spatial representation and reasoning, architecture and cognition, human/social factors and the environment, and technology-supported environments for collaborative design and social creativity. Laura holds a M.Ed. from the University of Texas and B.A. in Architecture and Art and Art History from Rice University.