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Environmental Design In The Learning Environment

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Discuss about the Environmental Design in the Learning Environment.



Learning environment is described as any physical locations, context and cultures in which students learn. Learning can take place in designated areas such as schools, libraries and museums similarly learning can take place incidentally in areas such as playgrounds, parks, hallways, dinner tables and street corners. Many things interrupt a student’s ability to focus on a task: distractions, noisy environment and even psychological growth and development. However these interruptions can be minimised through informed environmental designs of learning spaces.

The world health organisation, describes adolescence as the period in human growth and development that occurs after childhood and before adulthood, from ages 10- 19.  The early adolescent years might mark a downward spiral for some individuals, leading to academic failure and school drop-outs (Eccles., et al 1993).

Academic failure can be attributed to push effects, these are factors found within the school environment that impact the adolescent negatively and lead to rejecting of school. Conflict with teachers, teacher expectancies and belief, unsuccessful transition from one school to another and non facilitative school and class environment are some of the components that contribute to academic failure among adolescents (Polk n.d).

According to Schaps (2005) supportive and caring school environment (community schools) satisfies the basic psychological needs of students (safety, belonging, autonomy, and competence) in addition to these, community schools foster the students’ connectedness to the school environment. School is the primary context for the development of young people since it is the largest and most important institution in which they are involved (National Academy of Science, 2011). Research has shown that exposure to nature during the teenage years can provide an effectively  positive influence to adolescence in  contrast to this several studies show that it is during adolescence that teenagers lose interest in nature and prefer to spend most time indoors with their peers (Tuddenham, n.d).   

Students spend most of their time in school between the ages 10-19, it is therefore important to design these spaces to be biophilic. The schools should be built to accommodate nature; moreover it has been found that views of nature increase a student’s concentration to perform tasks requiring high mental effort. (Matsouka, 2008, as cited in Hurwitz, 2016). A corresponding theory suggests than teens that interact and care for animals such as horses, dogs and rabbits showed improved social skills, verbal communication, physical interaction, stress management and confidence (Georgetown behavioural health institute, 2016). More publications and research are coming up to support the biophilic design theory and its benefit, Heath (2015) states “Further research shows that optimising exposure to daylight alone can improve school attendance by an average of 3.5days/year and test scores by 5-14% whilst increasing the speed of learning by 20-26%. Whilst trials have found that plants in classrooms can lead to improved performance in spelling, mathematics and science of 10-14%.”


Relatively sparse research on biophilia and teenagers in the school environment has left room for further research. First, much of the research on teenagers concentrates on biophilic relationship with teenagers in the healing environment and not the learning environment. In addition to this most biophilic school designs concentrate on young children in pre-school.

According to Singapore’s census data of 2010 the population of adolescents between ages 10- 14 was 244,302 and those aged 15-19 stood at 263,750. The data further goes on to show that of those aged 15-19 a total of 227,762 are attending school, this shows that over 35,000 teenagers in this age bracket are not in school (Department of statistics Singapore, 2017). A number of reasons could be raised as to why these children are out of school but as earlier discussed push effects arising from the school environment could be a contributing factor. 

This study looks to find ways to incorporate biophilia in the school environment and promote architectural designs that are more centred on human beings especially those in the rocky phase of human development of adolescence.

Education space design

This study intends to design a school and all aspects in the school environment. The first impression of the school we have as we approach it from the outside is the main entrance to the school. The walkway from the gate to the first set of school buildings should exude nature and connect the student with the natural environment this serves to calm the student and prepare them for all the learning activities. In a formal learning environment most learning takes place within the classroom, libraries and laboratories. These spaces shall be the main focus of this design project because this is where most learning takes place and most time is spent in.

Hallways, playground and school botanic garden should not be over looked in achieving a biophilic design because this is where incidental learning occurs. Having open spaces and gardens within the school improve restoration cognition in students. The playground is an essential part in a school system and to the physical and mental development of adolescents. Playgrounds are spaces that allow students to participate in team sports and other physical activities that not only improve their physical health but also improve their interpersonal skills, boost their confidence and give adolescents a sense of purpose and identity.

The purpose of having a school field is to provide a space for an array of physical activities especially team sports. 

Intended users of the school

The main focus of this design project will be to create an environment suitable for students aged 15-19. The design will therefore heavily invest in making the student feel motivated and connected to the school goals and objectives. Furthermore the environment not only intends to promote academic excellence but also co-curricular activities and the moral and ethical perspective of the student. The school will have both sexes within the same environment, even though research has proven that adolescent boys and girls have different physical and psychological needs. The design takes into consideration these differences to produce a harmonised environment that satisfies and motivates both sexes.

Even though the main focus is on the students the design does not forget the main drivers of the learning process, the teachers. Since the school is not only a learning environment but also a working environment to the teachers and other school workers due diligence shall be taken to ensure that the environment is safe, motivating and brings a sense of connectedness to the adults. People with physical disabilities both adults and adolescents are to be catered for by the school environment. 


Special needs

According to UNICEF (2013) young people with disabilities are among the poorest and marginalised people in the world they are excluded from educational, economic, social and cultural activities. Only 10% of all the children with disabilities are enrolled in school and only half get to finish their primary level education (UNICEF, 2013). The period of adolescence is a period that prepares an individual for successful adult hood yet most adolescents with disabilities are excluded from social, educational and economic activities (Groce, 2004). Most schools are physically inaccessible to people with physical disabilities, this apparently locks out physically challenged adolescents out of school (UNICEF, 2013). In addition to this most adolescents with disabilities found it hard adjusting to the school environment, they felt that there needs were not being met by the school environment and the experienced both physical and social barriers within the school (Þorvarðardóttir, 2014). In the school setting students with disabilities felt that their peers had a negative attitude towards them and this at times led to bullying (Þorvarðardóttir, 2014).

In a holistic people centred environment and architecture all people should be considered. People with special needs such as those with physical disabilities, should be able to move around the school easily with minimal help. Such inclusive designs boost the confidence and self-worth, especially of adolescents who are going through a lot of mental and physical growth. Ramps that ease the mobility of physically challenged students increase their independence and reduce the feeling of despair and thoughts of being a burden.

Theoretical perspective of the design 

The attention restoration is one theory that advances and explains the benefit of nature on the human mind. This theory explains that nature has the ability to renew concentration after performing tasks that require a lot of mental energy such as studying for exams (Krisch, 2014). Krisch (2014) cites a study done by Kuo and Sullivan (2001) that found that young adults who were more exposed to nature had higher scores on attention capacity and were also less likely to be aggressive compared to those who were less exposed to nature. People and space are clearly related and it is difficult to conceive of space without social content, the behaviour setting theory seeks to express the complex relationship between people and the physical environment and how the physical setting of a place affects behaviour (Farag, 2015). From this theory we understand aspects like personal space: personal space is the invisible bubble around us and if people invade this space it makes us feel uncomfortable. Farag (2015) continues on and states the importance of spaces that allow young people to interact and associate with their peers as important in their development. Therefore it is vital that the school setting be arranged in a manner that promotes human interactions but still respects aspects such as personal space. This theory therefore is important in deciding the size of classrooms, number of students in a classroom and the arrangement of seats. The aforementioned two theories are important in the design of a school environment and architecture in helping the student and teachers explore their full potential in both academics and other co-curricular activities.

Brunswick’s lens model is a theory that can be used to explain the relations between the environment and the behaviour of organisms in the environment. Human beings receive a lot of stimuli from the environment and the brain decides which stimuli to pay attention to and use. The lens model gives us a platform to understand how environmental factors affect human cognition. In agreement with this is stress stimulation, too much stimulation leads to distractions and interference with cognitive processes thus leading to fatigue while lack of stimulation leads to boredom. Human beings work optimally at moderate levels of stimulation it is therefore important to consider this in the design process of the classrooms and hallways in the school.


The theory of biophilic school design

The theory of biophilia suggests that an instinctive bond exists between human beings and other living systems. Therefore biophilic designs are a response to the human need to be in contact with nature.

The attention restoration theory explains that nature has the ability to renew concentration after performing tasks that require a lot of mental energy such as studying for exams (Kirsch, 2014). In agreement with this is the stress recovery theory, Berto (2014) points out that the attention restoration theory and the stress recovery theory are complimentary and both agree that nature has the capability to reduce physiological and psychological stress. Therefore this informs the idea to have potted plants in the classrooms and trees within the school compound to increase interaction of the student with nature and improve cognitive restoration in the students. In the design of the school an animal pen and a fishpond will be incorporated into the design.  In a study conducted by the Georgetown behavioural health institute (2016) teenagers who cared and interacted with pets showed great improvement in their capabilities to handle stress and improved social skills.

Psychological studies on youth sports usually contradict one another because no two people are ever alike, despite these contradictions, studies on youth sport agree that continuity, intensity and balance have a positive effect on youth (Mitchell, 2012). Intensity in sports is the amount of time spent participating in sports, active participation leads to mastery of skills and superior knowledge of tactics leading to development of strategic thinking which is useful in all aspects of life. (Mitchell, 2012). Research on benefits of physical activities recommend that people aged 5-17 require about 60 minutes of vigorous to moderate activities in a day (Eime,.et al 2013). The physical, social and psychological benefits of sports informed the decision to have an open playing field for participation in individual and team sports.


In the biophilia hypothesis it suggests that human beings have a need to connect with the natural environment, it is in line with this theory that the school buildings will be built using natural materials such as bamboo; which have a warm natural colour that are calming to the human mind. In addition to the use of natural material the shape of the classroom would mimic some of the common shapes found naturally in the environment such as the oval and circular shapes. Addition of small water bodies within the open spaces would go a long way in completing the natural setting of the environment. Water bodies would attract birds and other insect species. Research has shown that the human mind responds to natural sounds produced by flowing water and birds.

The needs of disabled adolescents are similar to the needs of their non-disabled peers- education, inclusion and need for employment (Groce, 2004). Disabled people are not only disadvantaged by physical barriers but also by barriers that exist at the psycho-emotional level, the experience of exclusion and prejudice affect their emotional well being (Reeve, 2006). By creating a barrier free school environment that enables ease of movement for the disabled they suffer less prejudice and exclusion thus they are able to fully concentrate on their studies. To promote equality, fairness and inclusion the school shall have curb ramps and washrooms for the disabled.

Social interaction and inclusion is an important need of most adolescents, the school environment should encourage interaction of peers inside the classroom and outside. A sociopetal arrangement of furniture in class and outside encourages interaction. Such arrangements go a long way in satisfying the adolescents need to interact with their peers.  


Education is a key process in the growth and development of adolescents, as it equips the student with skills and knowledge that are necessary in the world. As more money is pumped into the education sector it is therefore wise and prudent to make sure all this investment is fully utilised by ensuring students make the most out of the time they spend in school. The economic input in the education sector can yield higher results by ensuring that students leave the school environment while healthy, happy and stress free this ensures a higher life expectancy.

Research done over the years has shown that biophilic designs promote faster mental restoration after performing tasks that require high mental activity and increase the concentration of students.



O., Heath. (2015, September 25). 3 Top Educational Spaces. Retrieved April 09, 2017, from

Berto, R. (2014, December). The Role of Nature in Coping with Psycho-Physiological Stress: A

Literature Review on Restorativeness. Retrieved April 09, 2017, from

Department Of Statistics Singapore. (2016, March 24). Retrieved April 09, 2017, from

Eccles, J. S., Barber, B. L., Stone, M., & Hunt, J. (2003). Extra curricular Activities and Adolescent Development. Journal of Social Issues, 59(4), 859-889. Retrieved from

Eime, R. M., Young, J. A., Harvey, J. T., Charity, M. J., & Payne, W. R. (2013). A systematic review of the psychological and social benefits of participation in sport for children and adolescents: informing development of a conceptual model of health through sport. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 10(1), 98.

doi:10.1186/1479-5868-10-98 Farag, A. A. (2015, March 02). Behavior setting. Retrieved April 09, 2017, from

Groce, N. E. (2004). Adolescents and youths with disability: Issues and challenges. Asia Pacific

Disability Rehabilitation Journal, 15(2), 13-29. Retrieved from

Georgetown Behavioral Health Institute. (2016, June 1). How Animal Therapy is Helping Teens. Retrieved April 09, 2017, from

Hurwitz, H. (2016, April 13). The Benefits of Biophilia in the Built Environment [Web log post].

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Krisch, K. (2017, March 27). Attention Restoration Theory & Nature: Let's Solve Problems... Retrieved April 09, 2017, from restoration-theory-nature-lets-solve-problems/

Mitchell, M. P., PhD. (2012, January 08). The Psychology of Youth Sports. Retrieved from

Reeve, D. (2006). Towards a psychology of disability: The emotional effects of living in adisabling society. Retrieved from

Schaps, E., PhD. (2005). The Role of Supportive School Environments in Promoting Academic Success. Retrieved April 09, 2017, from articles-and-papers-the-role-of-supportive-school-environments-in-promoting-academic- success

Tuddenham, K. A. (n.d.). Fostering Child Cognitive Development Through Access To Green Space. Retrieved from series/documents/downloads/a-g/Berkley-2013-Section-3.pdf

Unicef. (2013, May). Children and young people with disabilities fact sheet. Retrieved from

Þorvarðardóttir, E. (2014). Adolescents with Physical Disabilities and Their Wellbeing and Peer Relationships within Secondary Schools in Iceland (Unpublished master's thesis).Reykjavik University. Retrieved from

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