Much has been written about the environmental problems that students and teachers struggle with: noise, glare, mildew, mold, ventilation and temperature extremes. Unfortunately, the role that architectural design plays in learning and teaching often is ignored. Designers should look at the human factors in spatial design, which emphasizes people-oriented design in behavioral terms.

In designing a school, architects and planners must do more than just meet building code requirements or state-recommended guidelines. Using the criteria of health and safety, performance, comfort and aesthetics, designers need to create a humanized physical environment that stimulates interest and provides motivation for learning and teaching. The human factors in design are a sense of place, ownership, community, presence, comfort, security, aesthetics, performance and privacy.

Students must feel a sense of place — that they are in a school and are there to learn. Physical-education facilities, a football stadium with lights, landscaping, driveways, parking lots, school buses, lockers, room numbers and an entry sign all help identify a building as a high school.

Good sense

Human factors in building design also can help establish a sense of place. They focus mainly on people's behavior as they interact and use spaces. The major ingredient is the architectural design: aesthetics (including color and texture), form, scale, proportion, function, daylight, equipment and furnishings. For example, examine the design options for a lecture room that serves 120 to 150 students:

  • An auditorium design that positions all students forward to view the teacher standing in front.

  • A “thrust stage” lecture room, with rows of students around a lecture stage.

  • A “forum” lecture room that provides student seating in a horseshoe-shaped pattern with the teacher in the center.

The forum creates a more effective sense of place by recognizing behavioral patterns. The delivery methodology is enhanced because the teacher becomes a centralized participant in the educating process. The learning process is enhanced through interaction among students and the teacher.

For students who struggle in a normal school environment, a sense of place can be created in nontraditional settings with alternative scheduling and curricula. One Minnesota district has four small high schools and four alternative schools in shopping malls, and one in a converted city hall. Another district has a school in a remodeled warehouse in an industrial district.

A sense of community is created with facilities that foster interaction and socialization, belonging and connectedness. Locker commons, cafeterias, libraries, courtyards, computer centers, patios and flexible team-learning areas provide opportunities to design spaces that create this sense of community. Even a teen-parent daycare center within a school building can create a feeling of belonging. Culture and heritage reflected in a design enhance a sense of community and ownership.

A sense of ownership results from respect for surroundings. Spaces designed with aesthetic pleasantness, complementary colors in proper furnishings, and galleries or a wall of fame that display student artwork and trophies contribute to a sense of self-worth and ownership. Childcare programs that allow teen parents to attend school and care for their children also contribute to this feeling.

Both a sense of ownership and a sense of performance can be found in technology/media centers as they incorporate new technologies, increased Internet use and enhanced study spaces. Almost all schools have enhanced libraries and technology head-end areas, and many have television studios, audio-recording studios, an Internet radio station and a television station.

Technology can enhance a sense of security, as can a facility's design; it recognizes human behavioral patterns and creates spaces, corridors and lobbies with active and passive supervision.

The facility design must create a sense of presence. Students need to see and be seen to feel connected and know that others are aware of their presence. Food courts, patios and student locker commons relate to this sense. Students are bigger today than in the past — a sense of comfort is found in wider doors, corridors, locker bays, toilet stalls, cafeteria seating, auditorium seating and laboratory stations.