Designing education projects for a new world

Designers have a new set of education design requirements to take into account as a result of multiple local and global influences, says GAJ’s Avinash Kumar

Several influences have had a significant impact on the education sector within the region and globally in recent years. Everything from the outbreak of the pandemic to the advent of new technology, a desire for soft skills training, decreasing attention spans, a focus on sustainability and other factors have made their mark on the sector.

Discussing the impact these influences have had on client design requirements and, ultimately, design thinking for education projects, Avinash Kumar, Associate Partner at Godwin Austen Johnson (GAJ) tells Middle East Construction News (MECN) exclusively that one main area of change is the provision of an innovative and efficient learning space, which is healthy and contributes to the wellbeing of students.

“Air quality and lighting plays a major role in the cognitive performance of students, so we must ensure that we create a healthy environment for them to thrive in,” he elaborates.

In October 2021, GAJ won the lead design architect role for the Dubai Ladybird Nursery and, in January 2022, the firm announced the completion of DoubleTree by Hilton Sharjah.

Sharing some of the requirements he’s tracked from clients in recent times, he states, “Clients have a desire for an efficient floor plate to keep the overall flow of students to a minimum. Adequate space planning is always in demand and plays a key role in school design. We have been developing a number of ‘out of classroom’ spaces such as extra-wide corridors and atrium spaces that encourage collaborative processes where students are not bound by conventional teaching spaces.”

GAJ is a well-established design entity within the UAE and, over the years, it has established itself as a significant player when it comes to the design and delivery of education projects. Recently, it handed over The Citizens School in Dubai.

Asked whether the pandemic is still influencing design requirements today, he replies, “There were many COVID rules, such as social distancing, that were put in place during the pandemic – most of these were temporary. However, several of the design protocols including sensor-based sanitary provisions in highly populated spaces, such as washrooms and cafeterias, which were adopted during this period of time, have now become standard in the design of public spaces.”

“That makes sense, as does the continual implementation of highly efficient filters and UV lamps for air-handling units to prohibit microbial growth and airborne contamination for better indoor air quality,” he continues.

Apart from disrupting how educational institutes engaged with their students, the pandemic also significantly impacted global supply chains, and this continues to be a challenge today. Kumar notes that supply chain issues have been a concern for many months now, with major shipping delays affecting projects across sectors.

Commenting on how GAJ is dealing with this challenge when it comes to its education projects, Kumar states, “We rely heavily on locally produced materials, which enables us to avoid some of these problems. But, there are many others who have been, and continue to be, affected by product availability, labour shortages, and logistics disruptions.”

Another innovation that seems to have captured the attention of the built environment and its various stakeholders post pandemic is the Metaverse. Positioned as the next iteration of the internet – one which functions as a single, universal and immersive virtual world that is engaged with via the use of virtual reality and augmented reality headsets – a number of built environment stakeholders, and reputed brands, have debated the technology’s potential to be either an add-on to existing offerings or an all out replacement.

Asked about his views on whether the Metaverse could replace physical classrooms, Kumar comments, “In one of our recent school projects, we installed digital screens with four smart projectors on two of the walls to enable teachers to share multiple ideas on multiple screens. This was a new approach and has set a new precedent for classroom design, opening the door to a new level of multisensory learning where virtual reality and the Metaverse allows students to enter an environment they can see and feel.”

He concludes, “The Metaverse will certainly be an added feature within schools in the next few years, but it will not replace the classroom, as there really is no substitute for the physical interaction students experience in a traditional learning environment.”

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