Working in the education design space collectively for 26 years, we understand students and teachers need environments to support learning. Classrooms should be designed for listening and engagement; study spaces should be calm and quiet. And yet, these environments are typically noisy and full of unintentional distractions – and overlook design elements that facilitate focus.
Besides noise reduction, students require a harmonious balance among lighting, temperature, air quality, and intentional design to maximize their focus throughout their long days. Ninety-two percent of teachers believe classroom design has a strong impact on students’ learning, and carpet, color, and furnishings are just a few elements that can help improve education spaces.
Understanding the need to balance these components, we always approach education design by drafting inclusive spaces with adaptable features. It’s important that designs address today’s modern classroom demands and demonstrate how designers and architects can create a comforting, student-centered design. By integrating noise-absorbing elements for focused learning, supporting classroom productivity and creativity with color, and reconfiguring the classroom layout to inspire collaboration, students and teachers alike are better positioned to succeed.
Many classrooms have a speech intelligibility rating of 75 percent or less, and 50 percent of newly qualified teachers suffer voice loss, attributed in part to classrooms with poor acoustics. Noise, echoes, reverberation, and room modes all interfere with students’ ability to listen and accurately understand speech. Inaccurate hearing disrupts concentration, classroom behavior, and content consumption.
Despite being a prominent issue that greatly transforms learning, acoustics have been a neglected aspect of classroom design. As designers, architects, and educators, it’s important to consider all design components that influence classroom noise. Integrating fabric-wrapped acoustic wall panels, ceiling tiles that rate highly on the Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC) scale, and opting for softer design materials and decorations are all key noise absorption elements. These design details all attribute to improved academic performance and encourage focused energy.
When designing classrooms, we use a combination of these methods, avoiding hard surfaces where possible, and choosing soft furniture and carpet for extra sound absorption properties. Designers can also tailor classroom design with carpet cushion backing options that reduce noisy distractions and absorb the impacts of the heavily trafficked floor.
Integrating Color for Purposeful Movement
Color is also an influential aspect of classroom learning as it affects behavior, performance, and intention. From saturated hues that signal fun and play to muted neutrals that communicate calm and concentration, colors and the patterns that house them influence behavior. Identifying the desired energy in the room determines what colors and patterns to use in furniture, decorations, exposed structures, and flooring. Designers should welcome colorful chairs and posters in play areas, while desks should mirror a minimalist aesthetic to encourage student concentration. The use of color in designated areas signals to students the behavior expected of them.
For example, implementing a pod layout in education projects can create collaboration among the different grade levels. Using colors to designate specific grades or areas of the building enables students to know where they should be and subconsciously signals their behavioral expectations. For example, the first grade classrooms could have yellow accents, second graders green, and third graders red, while common spaces incorporate the colors of adjacent and combined grade groups. In these classroom areas that require more focused energy, we use a combination of muted patterns so students can concentrate on their studies and teachers have the flexibility to decorate how they want.
However, we opt for dynamic and energetic patterns to represent engagement in areas that allow more student collaboration, like in the media center. This approach to flooring design allows children to intuitively know how to behave depending on where they are.
Photo courtesy of RTA Architects
Designing for All Learning Styles
Over the last decade, we’ve seen a significant increase in schools prioritizing collaborative and flexible design to accommodate different learning styles. Since students are in constant motion and change between activities, ergonomic and Montessori classroom design allows for this adaptable learning style. No student learns the same way, yet traditional classrooms are uniformly structured for one learning method.
Incorporating adjustable chairs or desks, limiting distracting decorations, and finding the right soft lighting are all ways to intentionally design classrooms. These elements aim to optimize comfort, limit sensory overload, and increase productivity. Instead of children being overly focused on staying still, they have the freedom to move so all their attention is on the subject at hand.
Photo courtesy of RTA Architects
There are many ways designers and architects can prioritize student-focused design for better classroom learning. Design must account for diverse learning styles while ensuring students are encouraged to collaborate and connect with their teachers and peers. With the combination of muted and dynamic carpet patterns, noise-reducing materials, and elements that signal purpose, students are well-equipped to comfortably tune into their classroom. And while not every school is able to complete an entire renovation, classrooms and collaborative spaces can simply be redecorated or designed for all students.